User perspectives on design: Does it work?

The hands and arms of two people sit at a table covered in papers and post it notes. It indicates a brainstorming session.Standard terms allow us to communicate effectively with each other. For researchers it makes it easier to follow a strand of research. With so many ways of talking about universal design it’s little wonder researchers are trying to find a way around this. However, it will always be a blurry field of investigation because the genie is already out of the bottle. It’s too late to change things now.

User perspectives and user involvement is part of the process of designing universally.  A research paper on user perspectives bemoans the terminology problems and attempts to seek some clarity. The authors argue user participation is not a method because there is no rule-based procedure to follow. Research logic is not consistent across studies. So they claim there is no way to validate the design decisions. They conclude that as there is no concise definition, and it’s unlikely to happen, it will be down to an agreed understanding. 

In a nutshell, there is no one method or process for user involvement in design. Attempts to devise one and give it a name will be unproductive. Rather, let the status quo remain and agree to an understanding between designers and design academics. Universal design does not offer the comfort of a step by step approach – it requires skill and creativity. That leaves it open for more than one way to achieve design outcomes.

The paper is somewhat technical and discusses the issues of multidisciplinary terms and multi-level inter-dependencies, and of course, terminology. The title of the paper is, Methodological foundations of user involvement research: A contribution to user-centred design theory. It was published in the Proceedings of the Design Society 2020 Conference

Abstract:  The concept of involving user perspectives into product development processes has its roots in the early 1960s. Although this seems to be following a quite long tradition, as a design research field, it did not improve substantially and, so far, no consistent perception or even definition of the concept can be found. The paper points out where design research on user involvement still lacks methodological and theoretical foundation and makes the attempt of providing impulses for systemizing the existing body of knowledge within the Design Society as a research community.