Steven Pemberton, Jay Blickstein
There's an old adage in business: "The customer is always right." The notion of a customer-centric approach to product design is starting to take root in the CHI community, but it has meant a shift in strategy among designers, developers, managers, and others within companies and other organizations.
This issue features a special section on Contextual Design, a process that, in a nutshell, is the approach to designing products directly from an understanding of how the customer works. The section is guest-edited by Karen Holtzblatt, one of the pioneers in Contextual Design and a member of the interactions Editorial Board. As Holtzblatt explains in her introduction (p. 30): "Customer-centered design involves organizational change. Organizational change is not easily embraced, but it is necessary in order to make good products that support the customer."
Leading off the section is an article by Holtzblatt and Hugh Beyer (p. 32) that defines the parameters of Contextual Design and details how designers must adapt their way of working to accommodate this new strategy as well as satisfy their clients' needs. The rest of the section consists of a trio of articles from practitioners trained by Holtzblatt and Beyer: Teresa Cleary (p. 44) describes how the use of contextual data streamlined network device management at Cabletron Systems; Chris Rockwell (p. 50) tells how marketing techniques such as customer "value propositions" helped speed the adoption of a software product for Hewlett-Packard workstations; and John Ims (p. 58) relates DST Systems' collaborative approach including a mentoring process and brainstorming sessions to updating a key piece of call-center technology.
The Design column in this issue (p. 21) deals with a very different context: the way "cultural probes" can foster interaction between groups in a research project. Bill Gaver, Tony Dunne and Elena Pacenti detail how packages containing maps, postcards, a disposable camera and other materials allowed their target audience a diverse group of senior citizens to think outside the box and provide valuable feedback for their design effort.
"Design Methodology and Design Practice" by Jonas Löwgren and Erik Stolterman (p. 13) takes the Methods & Tools space. The authors explain how software design can be aided by more traditional methods such as function analysis, why-chains, and innovation by boundary shifting.
Jay Blickstein, Executive Editor
©1999 ACM 1072-5220/99/0100 $5.00
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