Opening the Design Process: Everyday People in the Fuzzy Front End

Elizabeth B.-N. Sanders, SonicRim and The Ohio State University

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University January 12, 2001

What roles do the "users" play in the HCI development process today? Has that changed over time? How? This talk will begin with a description of how the role of the "user" has changed over time in the HCI design development process, from the abstract user to the imaginary user to the hypothetical user/consumer. Real people have not typically been brought into the process until usability testing occurs, which is after preliminary (or not so preliminary) design development has taken place.

I will propose that a better way to develop human-centered technology is to bring real people directly into the design development process at the very early front end. I¹ll describe a participatory approach to the creation of visual "toolkits" that everyday people can use to expose and express their tacit thinking. I will show examples of the new visual vocabulary we use in making the toolkits as well as the "artifacts" of this generative process in the form of ideas, dreams and unmet needs of everyday people. These artifacts have informed as well as inspired the design process of products, interfaces and experiences.

I would like to end with a class discussion on the issue of representation in the design development process. What form (i.e., whose form) of representation is it best to use? When? Why does it matter?

Dr. Liz Sanders is the President of SonicRim, a consulting firm that helps companies achieve relevant innovation through a deeper understanding of the needs and aspirations of everyday people. One of the first social scientists to collaborate with designers and engineers in the development process, Liz has been a pioneering practitioner of participatory design practices in consumer and computer products and services for nearly 20 years. She earned undergraduate degrees in both psychology and anthropology and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology. Liz teaches Design Research to all undergraduates and graduate students in the Department of Industrial, Interior and Visual Communications Design at The Ohio State University.

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