A Fine Balance : Addressing Usability and Users’ Needs in the Development of IT Systems for the Workplace

Abstract: IT systems with poor usability are a serious problem in many workplaces. Many workers, particularly office workers, spend a large part of their workday at the computer, and usability problems can cause frustration and impact negatively on productivity. This thesis discusses some of the problems associated with addressing usability and users’ needs in IT systems development.Usability issues and users’ needs are often marginalised or even abandoned in systems development. Technical issues and deadlines are given precedence, while usability activities and user activities are cut back or cancelled. Research shows that there are various obstacles to usability and user involvement, including difficulties with understanding the usability concept, insufficient usability expertise and a lack of time and resources.This thesis presents a number of studies that look at the problem from different angles. The main question is why usability and users’ needs are marginalised in bespoke systems development, where IT systems are built for a specific work context. The research presented in this thesis also addresses user-centred systems design as a way of integrating usability issues and users’ needs into systems development. The thesis concludes with a discussion about different ways of viewing and representing the users’ work: the systems theoretical view and the view of work as a social process. The former emphasises the formal aspects of work and views users as components in an overall system, whereas the latter focuses on work as a social process and people as active agents. The discussion concludes with the argument that the conflict between these two views is played out in the systems development process, which may help explain some of the difficulties that arise when working with usability and users’ needs.