ACD (was ...companies actually using UCD)

30 Jun 2006 - 10:53am
8 years ago
6 replies
2716 reads
bhekking
2006

> Apple
>
>
> Didn't they get rid of their HCD team? I thought they were taking the ACD
> approach discussed by Norman.

ACD = Activity Centered Design
http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/human-centered.html

I'm sure I've browsed Norman's article before, but I'll have to read up,

Thanks,
Bret

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Comments

30 Jun 2006 - 4:06pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

Yup - great article, and concept. I haven't heard anyone talk about it at
all, but I think it's phenomenal. It shares a lot with UCD, but strays on
the point of creating personas and scenarios, instead saying we should
design to support the activity itself. It helps me sleep at night.

-r-

On 6/30/06, Bret Hekking <bhekking at yahoo.com> wrote:
>
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> > Apple
> >
> >
> > Didn't they get rid of their HCD team? I thought they were taking the
> ACD
> > approach discussed by Norman.
>
> ACD = Activity Centered Design
> http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/human-centered.html
>
> I'm sure I've browsed Norman's article before, but I'll have to read up,
>
> Thanks,
> Bret
>
>
>
> __________________________________________________
> Do You Yahoo!?
> Tired of spam? Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around
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30 Jun 2006 - 5:49pm
Mark Schraad
2006

On Jun 30, 2006, at 10:53 AM, Bret Hekking wrote:
> ACD = Activity Centered Design
> http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/human-centered.html
>
> I'm sure I've browsed Norman's article before, but I'll have to
> read up,

I greatly admire Donald Norman's ground breaking work in design and
read this article a while ago. While I mean no disrespect to Mr.
Norman, this article frankly, left me more than a little
disappointed, and here is why.

Norman implies that design is headed towards becoming too user
centered - or as I interpret his meaning, a user designed world. A
world without enough of the designer's input, and I think that is an
exaggeration. I also believe that the designer(s), after considering
all of the research, must show a sense of leadership in the product,
system or organizations conception, development and refinement. We as
designer must anticipate and lead through innovation.

Most products that Norman cites as used universally, actually changed
peoples behaviors or added capabilities to their daily lives. The
perfect product is one that adds capabilities without requiring a
change in behavior. Changing behavior in humans is remarkably
difficult. That is why a user or human centered approach to design is
a competitive advantage in the marketplace. The type fits all
products that Norman cites are either very simplistic or require some
degree of behavioral change (or in the case of ergonomics - physical
compromise)

The differentiation between HCD (Human entered Design) and ACD
(Activity Centered Design) is more of an observation of change. As
Human Factors engineers have moved from functional to usablility, the
issues have moved from ergonomics to behaviors (not always mutually
exclusive). I do not see the benefit of debating HCD over ACD. As
well, Norman's rather simplistic interpretation of Activity Theory do
him no favors here.

An extreme example of activity driven design, as Norman defines it
might be a cell phone that learns how to short cut those most
frequently used features with navigation to fit the users
explorations. Or a web site that alters its structures based upon
usage and navigational frequency - a more complex and automatic
approach to user configured preferences (which most users are either
not motivated or equipped to accomplish anyway.)

Human Factors (and UI, UE and IxD's) professionals also must be
concerned with situations where behavior must be altered in order to
accomplish goals. Some examples might be complex software and
extremely robust interfaces. In these complex learning environments
designer must be aware of methodologies and tools for encouraging
those behavioral changes, ie: feedback, aesthetics, task completion,
additional knowledge, pleasurability, etc.

Regarding apple, I have asked no less that 40 Apple employees, both
at MacWorld in the last two years and in phone conversations and by
reading every article I can find. I always get the same retort. Our
innovation system, process and personnel are one person, Steve Jobs.
It comes so "word-for-word" exact that I suspect that it is the PR
machine at work (not sure that ego is at play here or just a very
shrewd strategy - as we tend to love/hate icons and heros) and not
really any insight into the Apple process. I suspect that Steve's
dominance is a partial truth - but we all know that Jonathon Ives is
a major player as well. A shoot from the hip approach to innovation
can and has certainly hit some home runs, but I can't imagine it is a
successful formula for other companies, or good for Apple in the long
run.

[sorry for the long nature of this post... it is the early stage
thinking of a paper or blog posting to come sometime soon]

Mark Schraad
mschraad at mac.com

"Surround yourself with people that you admire and desire to be more
like."

interactive resume: www.markschraad.com
consulting site: www.design2market.biz
how and what I think: www.schraadsblog.com

30 Jun 2006 - 7:25pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> Norman implies that design is headed towards becoming too user
> centered - or as I interpret his meaning, a user designed world. A
> world without enough of the designer's input, and I think that is an
> exaggeration.

This is definitely open to interpretation. This isn't what I took from it at
all. He says "If it is so critical to understand the particular users of a
product, then what happens when a product is designed to be used by almost
anyone in the world? There are many designs that do work well for everyone.
This is paradoxical, and it is this very paradox that led me to re-examine
common dogma."

>From where I sit, he's saying it's more valuable in many cases to design for
the activity so that the resulting design is abstracted from a niche
audience and instead opens itself up to work for many type of people.

An extreme example of activity driven design, as Norman defines it
> might be a cell phone that learns how to short cut those most
> frequently used features with navigation to fit the users
> explorations.

This isn't extreme at all. It's not even that difficult to build. It's sad,
in fact, that it doesn't happen more often.

Also contrary to your point is the fact that this same solution is very
likely to be produced through UCD. Designing for a persona could result in
the exact same idea quite easily.

Regarding apple, I have asked no less that 40 Apple employees, both
> at MacWorld in the last two years and in phone conversations and by
> reading every article I can find. I always get the same retort. Our
> innovation system, process and personnel are one person, Steve Jobs.
> It comes so "word-for-word" exact that I suspect that it is the PR
> machine at work (not sure that ego is at play here or just a very
> shrewd strategy - as we tend to love/hate icons and heros) and not
> really any insight into the Apple process. I suspect that Steve's
> dominance is a partial truth - but we all know that Jonathon Ives is
> a major player as well. A shoot from the hip approach to innovation
> can and has certainly hit some home runs, but I can't imagine it is a
> successful formula for other companies, or good for Apple in the long
> run.
>

If design was always about *innovation*, then heck yeah, this would be
tough, and not very good for users either, who would be constantly battling
a learning curve to become familiar with the new innovations. Usually,
design is about incremental improvement. OS X was a major leap, but it
hasn't changed at its core since then. It's the small stuff that keeps it
moving forward. Innovation is expensive, but small ideas are a dime a dozen.

-r-

1 Jul 2006 - 7:32am
Robert Reimann
2003

I've kept out of the ACD discussion until now, but think there are some
important points to make regarding its relation to UCD methods, especially
Goal-Directed Design. If you read Don Norman's description of ACD carefully,

there are some very specific assumptions that are prerequisites for ACD
really
working. The most important is this: that the activity is very well
understood a priori.

Norman uses driving a car as an example. That activity is certainly well
understood by now, as Norman claims. But let's not forget that the way
it became understood was through a history of design issues that may have
cost
either lives or profits to auto companies (or both). Implicit in the auto
example
(and many of Norman's other examples) is that activities actually
*do* change: the difference is that they do so on an "evolutionary" time
scale
based on "natural selection" in the market over time. The path to
good products using this method is littered with generations of partial
and complete design failures. The whole point of UCD and GDD (lest we
forget)
is to shortcut this slow, innefficient, and terribly costly process by
understanding what the product really needs to do *before* it gets built.

Many organizations don't understand the value of UCD/GDD because they
*don't believe* answers to questions about product use can really be
answered before a product exists. This is where IxD clients often need
the most education. Risk mitigation is thus a huge value of UCD methods,
but is perhaps more valuable in the world of physical products than in the
world
of web services, where updates and upgrades are often a constant, fluid
process.

For basic web transactions, it is arguable that we have a good understanding
of the main activities. But as soon as those transactions are assembled into
more complex and domain-specific contexts (e.g., an ERP purchasing app,
for example), that argument becomes strained.

Norman also uses art and music as activity examples: people learn an
instrument or art
tool/technique, even though it is difficult to do. The same can be said for
mastering
a video game. These are interesting examples, but they really point to the
need to
understand the motivations behind the activity: the goals. This is key to
understanding
when an activity should be challenging vs. when it should be simple and
intuitive.

Understanding user goals gives you a shortcut around the long process of
tool
evolution, because even though technology changes and evolves all the time,
the human motivations that drives that evolution seldom do. Create a tool
that
achieves goals in the ways most appropriate to the context, and you have a
design success. Yes, there are disruptive technologies that change expand
the
range of possible goals and expectations... but they are the exception, not
the rule,
and even then, some thinking about what those goals might be is worthwhile.

Understanding goals also lets you know where to leave well enough alone:
where
people don't have an interest in making things faster or more efficient, but
instead
have other priorities. Goals, incidentally, also give you a window into
understanding
people *affected by* technology, who are not necessarily the actual users,
and
don't have activities directly associated with the technology affecting
them.

Norman states: "Great design, I contend, comes from breaking the rules, by
ignoring the generally accepted practices, by pushing forward with a clear
concept
of the end result, no matter what. This ego-centric, vision-directed design
results in
both great successes and great failures. If you want great rather than good,
this is
what you must do."

I would argue that understanding human goals in the context of products and
systems
provides the clear vision of the end result that Norman finds elusive, while
significantly
mitigating the risk of failure. I believe that this understanding comes
from well-developed
user models that capture the essence of human behaviors and motivations
pertinent to the
design problem at hand.

Goal-directed design is all about design vision, but not the vision that
comes from
the designer's ego (which can be a well-intentioned path to trouble).
Instead, it
comes from designer *empathy* with the needs and goals of real people,
encapsulated
in distilled form by personas. Norman doesn't think personas (at least not
as he
characterizes them, which lack utility because they lack goals) are directly
pertinent to
design: I don't see how they *can't* be.

Norman says we listen too much to users, and that designers need to take
command and do what they understand to be best. When you literally ask a
user
what they want, and then try to deliver it verbatim, you are abdicating your

responsibility as a designer (here I believe Norman and I agree). You must
read between the lines to discover goals, do your due diligence to make sure

you have found "common" goals rather than the idiosyncratic quirks of the
individual, and base your design effort upon this knowledge, carrying it
through
to activities, tasks, and beyond. And that is the essence of goal-directed
design.

Robert.

--

Robert Reimann
President, IxDA

Manager, User Experience
Bose Corporation
Framingham, MA

On 6/30/06, Robert Hoekman, Jr. <rhoekmanjr at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> Yup - great article, and concept. I haven't heard anyone talk about it at
> all, but I think it's phenomenal. It shares a lot with UCD, but strays on
> the point of creating personas and scenarios, instead saying we should
> design to support the activity itself. It helps me sleep at night.
>
> -r-
>
>
>
> On 6/30/06, Bret Hekking <bhekking at yahoo.com> wrote:
> >
> > [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> > material.]
> >
> > > Apple
> > >
> > >
> > > Didn't they get rid of their HCD team? I thought they were taking the
> > ACD
> > > approach discussed by Norman.
> >
> > ACD = Activity Centered Design
> > http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/human-centered.html
> >
> > I'm sure I've browsed Norman's article before, but I'll have to read up,
> >
> > Thanks,
> > Bret
>

1 Jul 2006 - 9:20am
Mark Schraad
2006

I was writing quickly - maybe some clarification (edits) are in order...

On Jun 30, 2006, at 7:25 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

>
> Norman implies that design is headed towards becoming too user
> centered - or as I interpret his meaning, a user designed world,
> world without enough of the designer's input, and I think that is an
> exaggeration.
>
> This is definitely open to interpretation. This isn't what I took
> from it at all. He says "If it is so critical to understand the
> particular users of a product, then what happens when a product is
> designed to be used by almost anyone in the world? There are many
> designs that do work well for everyone. This is paradoxical, and it
> is this very paradox that led me to re-examine common dogma."

I think it may depend upon whether it is a design, re-design, or
modification. It also depend upon where in the product life cycle
this is occurring.

>
> From where I sit, he's saying it's more valuable in many cases to
> design for the activity so that the resulting design is abstracted
> from a niche audience and instead opens itself up to work for many
> type of people.

Absolutely. The more mature the product (further into the lifecycle)
the more specific the attributes (features and benefits) will likely
be targeted to a smaller segment.

>
> An extreme example of activity driven design, as Norman defines it
> might be a cell phone that learns how to short cut those most
> frequently used features with navigation to fit the users
> explorations.
>
> This isn't extreme at all. It's not even that difficult to build.
> It's sad, in fact, that it doesn't happen more often.

Extreme being that it rarely exists in the world at this moment. And
I agree that it is sad... it is very possible, particularly in highly
segmented and technology markets.

>
> Also contrary to your point is the fact that this same solution is
> very likely to be produced through UCD. Designing for a persona
> could result in the exact same idea quite easily.

I think my point was that the designer should consider all aspects of
the user - both and so activity should always be part of the
equation. I do not consider HCD as being void of activity
considerations unless we are talking about the state of HCD in 1970.
I think of activity as an additional consideration to those in HCD so
I fail to find purpose in a new name ACD other than to show progress
in the discipline.

>
> Regarding apple, I have asked no less that 40 Apple employees, both
> at MacWorld in the last two years and in phone conversations and by
> reading every article I can find. I always get the same retort. Our
> innovation system, process and personnel are one person, Steve Jobs.
> It comes so "word-for-word" exact that I suspect that it is the PR
> machine at work (not sure that ego is at play here or just a very
> shrewd strategy - as we tend to love/hate icons and heros) and not
> really any insight into the Apple process. I suspect that Steve's
> dominance is a partial truth - but we all know that Jonathon Ives is
> a major player as well. A shoot from the hip approach to innovation
> can and has certainly hit some home runs, but I can't imagine it is a
> successful formula for other companies, or good for Apple in the long
> run.
>
> If design was always about *innovation*, then heck yeah, this would
> be tough, and not very good for users either, who would be
> constantly battling a learning curve to become familiar with the
> new innovations. Usually, design is about incremental improvement.
> OS X was a major leap, but it hasn't changed at its core since
> then. It's the small stuff that keeps it moving forward. Innovation
> is expensive, but small ideas are a dime a dozen.

Many small ideas are innovative. Innovation does should not imply the
scale or progress, just progress. Innovation in my mind is simply
moving forward with progress and improvement. That includes
incremental and even obvious change.

>
> -r-

Mark Schraad
mschraad at mac.com

"Surround yourself with people that you admire and desire to be more
like."

2 Jul 2006 - 12:53pm
Oleh Kovalchuke
2006

Stimulating if meandering article by Donald Norman.

The starting postulate is simple: human centered design process is well
suited for incremental design improvements – it evaluates if and how design
idea conform current set of user expectations, current user goals, mental
models, practices. HCD process is less suitable for evaluation of disruptive
technologies, ideas. This is not limitation of process per se. This is due
to natural limitation of our human mental abilities (and, by the way,
relates to recent thread on cognitive load - http://tinyurl.com/gud4a ): we
have hard time imagining alternative outcomes.

According to Klein's book on decision making, when we construct mental
simulations we are limited to three changing objects interacting for six
consecutive steps. Disruptive ideas, technologies are disruptive precisely
because they don't fit with the rest of common expectations, they re-arrange
many more than three existing practices in novel ways. The corollary, born
in history, is that we, humans, are notoriously poor predictors of future
developments of disruptive technology ("The phonograph has no commercial
value at all." - Thomas Edison, 1880s; many books are filled with examples
of this phenomenon).

Robert Reimann writes: "I would argue that understanding human goals in the
context of products and systems provides the clear vision of the end result
that Norman finds elusive, while significantly mitigating the risk of
failure. I believe that this understanding comes from well-developed user
models that capture the essence of human behaviors and motivations pertinent
to the design problem at hand."

----------------------------------------------------------

Given natural limitations of human mind, Norman's concerns about constraints
of evaluations used in HCD process appear to be well-justified. The crucial
questions, unarticulated in his article then are these: "Who is going to be
the judge of applicability of disruptive design idea?", and: "What is
his/her track record as far as disruptive ideas are concerned?"

----------------------------------------------------------

We know the answer at Apple (Steve Jobs). However the answer to these
questions doesn't mean that HCD process should be discarded (here is where
Norman went wrong), rather that HCD should be applied with gusto where there
is need for incremental improvements. There are many, many areas where this
is true. On the other hand, negative results of HCD user modeling and
evaluations should always be taken with doubt, and possibly dismissed by
stakeholders whenever disruptive technology is suspected (here is where
Norman went right).

Finally, activity centered design process should be encouraged as long as
it's own limitations are understood: it is not a magic bullet - ACD removes
focus on *current* user expectations, and thus might facilitate innovation,
however someone (human, not process) still has to dream up the crazy idea,
which may or may not be viable after the venture capital financing runs out.

Or as Norman states: "Great design, I contend, comes from breaking the
rules, by ignoring the generally accepted practices, by pushing forward with
a clear concept of the end result, no matter what. This ego-centric,
vision-directed design results in both great successes and great failures.
If you want great rather than good, this is what you must do."

--
Oleh Kovalchuke
Interaction Design is Design of Time
http://www.tangospring.com/IxDtopicWhatIsInteractionDesign.htm

PS As I said in the beginning, the article is meandering: there are
interesting observations on dynamic nature of interaction, and on error
handling, on system approach to design - all of these can and should be
addressed within framework of HCD process.

On 6/30/06, Bret Hekking <bhekking at yahoo.com> wrote:
>
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> > Apple
> >
> >
> > Didn't they get rid of their HCD team? I thought they were taking the
> ACD
> > approach discussed by Norman.
>
> ACD = Activity Centered Design
> http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/human-centered.html
>
> I'm sure I've browsed Norman's article before, but I'll have to read up,
>
> Thanks,
> Bret
>
>
>
> __________________________________________________
> Do You Yahoo!?
> Tired of spam? Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around
> http://mail.yahoo.com
> ________________________________________________________________
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