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VIII.2 March 2001
Page: 41
Digital Citation

Industry briefs: IBM

Karel Vredenburg

back to top  Philosophy of Design

IBM's strategic philosophy of design is in essence to create a delightful total user experience with our offerings by having a multidisciplinary team of specialists understand users and then iteratively design a solution to satisfy them. The philosophy is expressed formally in a core set of User-Centered Design (UCD) principles, incorporated as a core element of IBM's integrated development process, and optimized via a UCD Workbench for multidisciplinary practitioners. The core UCD principles focus on setting target market objectives, understanding users, designing the total user experience with a multidisciplinary team, evaluating designs regularly, assessing competitiveness, and making user feedback integral to product plans, priorities, and decision making.

Although a human factors organization was first established at IBM over four decades ago and various usability and human factors approaches have been used over the years, it was only with the introduction of our enhanced version of UCD in 1995 that we experienced a real organizational transformation to becoming a user-centered company. However, this wasn't an easy transition. It involved ensuring that the company was aligned from top to bottom with the new approach. This was accomplished by developing and then delivering three UCD classes across the company: a half day Leadership Workshop for executive and technical leaders, a one-day Introduction to UCD Class for entire development organizations, and a two-day Team Workshop for project multidisciplinary design teams. Another critical ingredient involved establishing a set of new corporate and divisional positions. We created a Vice President of Ease of Use position, a Director of Ease of Use Integration, and a UCD Architect and Corporate Team Leader at the company-wide level and Ease of Use Champions for each division of the company. The latter are typically director-level leaders with additional responsibilities as well who have the task of driving the initiative within their division. We also developed a set of tools and information sources for executives and practitioners to use across the company to optimize the carrying of UCD methods and techniques and to help in managing projects using the approach. Lastly, we set up a UCD Advisory Council of representatives from each discipline comprising UCD and a practitioner leader from each division and geography. This team works with the UCD Architect and Corporate Team Leader to evaluate new methods, capture great ideas from across the company, and determine what tools should be included in the UCD Workbench.

back to top  Design Process

The IBM Integrated Development Process (IPD) has UCD as its integrated user experience design process. IPD involves a series of investment gates or decision checkpoints and each of these incorporates key UCD information that must be reviewed in order to proceed to the next phase. The process itself involves specialists in several disciplines (Total User Experience Leadership, Visual/Industrial Design, Human-Computer Interaction Design, User Assistance/Information Architecture, User Research, Marketing, Technology Architecture, Service and Support) working together to create the total user experience of the offering using a disciplined, integrated set of user-based methods as outlined in Figure 1.

The approach starts with carrying out one of several Task Analytic methods that seeks to understand the current and anticipated future tasks and task flows of users. This is followed by an analysis of how these tasks are carried out today by the majority of the users via a Competitor Evaluation. This leads to the multidisciplinary design of the first concept prototype of the total user experience design. This is evaluated by users in a Design Walkthrough of the IBM design in comparison to the solution currently used by the majority of users. Following this, participatory iterative lower-level design is carried out via low-fidelity prototyping Design Evaluation techniques and, over time, with increasingly higher-fidelity prototypes and product code. The latter is assessed with hands-on Design Validation studies. During Beta, we collect information directly from users in the field with surveys and usage instrumentation. Finally, a Benchmark Assessment is carried out comparing the final deliverable to the competitive solution. There are a variety of base and advanced methods available to practitioners in the UCD Workbench at each stage of the project.

back to top  Design Project Example

An illustrative design problem involved the organization of the main screen of the web-based tool suite our practitioners use to carry out UCD. The previous solution was a traditional Web site that users found difficult to use both in finding information and accessing appropriate tools. We formed a multidisciplinary design team for the project, carried out extensive user studies to determine core tasks as well as their priority and context, and iteratively designed the solution shown in Figure 2. The visual design reinforces the brand identity created for UCD at IBM. The HCI design based all elements on the prioritized core tasks users wanted to carry out and made these tasks available at all times on the navigator. Information architecture ensured that information was used most effectively. Finally, the Total User Experience leader ensured that all of these elements came together and were appropriately implemented in the final solution. Overall user satisfaction improved dramatically from 52 percent to 82 percent.

back to top  Author

Karel Vredenburg
IBM User-Centered Design Architect and Corporate Team Leader
Tel: 416-448-2330

back to top  Figures

F1Figure 1. IBM Integrated Development Process

F2Figure 2. UCD Workbench

UF1Figure. Karel Vredenburg

back to top  Sidebar: Job Titles:

The following are the job titles of key design and user evaluation positions, the approximate number of them at IBM (shown in parentheses), and their prime responsibility.

  • The Total User Experience Leader (90) has responsibility for the total user experience with the product, is the visionary who keeps the project focused on satisfying the user with a superior total solution and leads the multidisciplinary team.
  • The Visual/Industrial Designer (125) has responsibility for the overall appearance, layout, and balance of the offering including the consistent visual signature of the advertising, packaging, and product design.
  • The Human-Computer Interaction Designer (148) is responsible for specifying the task flow, interaction design, and division of tasks to be carried out by the user and by the computer.
  • The User Research Specialist (131) has responsibility for the design, analysis, and interpretation of User-Centered Design studies carried out on the project including the articulation of recommendations coming from this applied research.

The key to effective multidisciplinary design is the synergistic effect of true teamwork. These roles work together with the other members of the multidisciplinary UCD team, which also includes Marketing, Technology, Service and Support, User Assistance, Accessibility, and Globalization.

back to top  Sidebar: Practitioner's Workbench

The following are sources that inspired the initial development and subsequent enhancements of UCD at IBM.

  1. Hamel, G., and Prahalad, C.K. Strategic intent. Harvard Business Review. May-June 1989.
  2. Landauer, T.A. The Trouble with Computers. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1995.
  3. Norman, D.A., and Draper, S.W. User-Centered System Design: New Perspectives on Human-Computer Interaction. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, New Jersey, 1986.
  4. Norman, D.A. The invisible computer. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1998.
  5. Wiklund, M. Usability in practice: How companies develop user-friendly products. Academic Press, Inc.; New York, 1994.

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