The Rocky Road : Why Usability Work is so Difficult

Abstract: Achieving product and process quality are among the central themes of software engineering, and quality is an important factor in the marketplace. Usability and user experience (UX) are two important aspects of quality, particularly for interactive products. To achieve usability means producing products that let users do things in a satisfactory, efficient and effective way. To develop products with good UX, means going beyond usability, in ways that are still not clear to us. Achieving good usability and UX is hard. This thesis is concerned with organizations which work towards these goals. This research is concerned with understanding and improving the processes by which technology is designed and developed, and understanding the demands and expectations users have. It is about how companies can and actually develop products with good usability and UX, and what stops them from working towards this as efficiently as they could. We have viewed the usability and UX challenge from the viewpoints of Quality, Organizations, and Institutions, with a focus on participatory design, user-centred design and wicked problems. The research can be characterised as empirical research performed over a period of seven years, in close cooperation with industrial partners. The research was performed using multiple data collection methods to create constructs and shape theory. The field methods have ranged from being a participant observer, to performing interviews and holding workshops with members of the participating organisations. A case study approach was initially used, but focus soon moved from case study methodology to a closer focus on grounded theory, and finally the focus shifted to constructivist grounded theory. The thesis contributes to the field of software engineering in several ways. Usability has a long history within software engineering, human computer interaction, and design science, but the different discourses within the fields have meant that communication between the fields was problematic. The research in this thesis has moved between the different fields, contributing to bridging the gap between the areas. It gives an illustration of how usability work actually takes place in different types of companies, from a developer of operating systems for smartphones, to a global engineering company, which knows that it must find ways of working with, and measuring, usability and user experience. It gives concrete knowledge about the way in which companies can work with usability testing, and how they can provide information to satisfy the information needs of different stakeholders. It provides a discussion of the state of UX today, taking up the problems that stop industry making use of the definitions and theories of UX that exist. Thus, it gives an illustration of the different factors in product design, development and sales, from dealing with organizational factors to satisfying user needs, that all make usability work such a rocky road to navigate.