Design Methodology

Design Methodology

Research by Den Ouden (2006), Hoolhorst & Van der Voort (2009) and Van Kuijk (2010) indicates that many complaints about usability find their origin in the organisation of the product development process. To deal with this issue, one of the aims of the Design for Usability project was to formulate a product development methodology that supports the development of usable products.

Most companies already have a product development methodology (PDM) customized to their needs, to make the product development process (PDP) as effective and efficient as possible. To be able to apply the principles of the new proposed DfU methodology for usable products, while not forcing companies to overhaul their current product development processes, for each company and/or project a Plan of Approach (PoA) has to be specified which shows how the principles of the DfU methodology will be applied in the corporate PDMs (Christiaans, 1992; Dorst, 2008; Hoolhorst and Voort, 2009).

Unfortunately in practice, product development teams often have an un-univocal, incomplete or wrong overview of a user-centred PoA. Practice-based research shows that, until now, PoAs for the user-centred aspects of product development processes are primarily defined based on the experience of the team members and are often not very specific which complicates the execution of the user-centred design activities (Hoolhorst, 2010; Van Kuijk, 2010). There are no tools to support product development teams in defining a univocal, effective and complete PoA for user-centred product development. The lack of a detailed and user-centred overview of the approach will, based on the product-process relation (Cross et al., 1996; Cross, 2006), most certainly not lead to a product design that meets the intended use characteristics (Hoolhorst, 2010; Van Kuijk, 2010).


This study has the aim of providing insights into how product development practitioners set up user-centred product development projects and how this could be improved. These insights are synthesized into a tool that support product development teams in specifying a detailed user-centred PoA: the UCD Kick-Off Tool.

Method and results

In four main steps the UCD Kick-Off Tool (see fig. 1) guides product development teams to define a detailed PoA for user-centred product development, based on the specific characteristics of the product as well as the development environment. Since usability is only one of many aspects to consider in product development (Boivie et al., 2006; Gulliksen et al., 2006; Van Kuijk, 2010), this tool focuses on usability, but does not exclude other product aspects.

The UCD Kick-Off tool can be seen as a reference methodology discussing aspects that need to be considered while defining a usability and user-centred PoA. The tool is based on the assumption that an explicit and detailed definition of a user-centred PoA prevents usability problems. Input for the tool is a design brief describing desired basic product characteristics, process and project constraints and the core development team. The output of the tool is a detailed user-centred PoA describing intended product characteristics, intermediate development results, selected methods for (user-centred) product development, development activities, input per development activity and allocation of resources.

Step 1 – Stakeholder mapping

Conclusions by Hoolhorst (2010) and Van Kuijk (2010) demonstrate that a product developer’s lack of a complete overview of stakeholders (both inside and outside the company) is an important aspect that causes of usability problems. Therefore the first step supports developers by making a complete overview and specification of stakeholders and prioritizing them. Where most stakeholder theories describes stakeholders in general terms, here stakeholder specification is tailored for use in user-centred PoA.

Step 2 – Result planning

Cross (2006) states that detailed insight into the desired product characteristics as well as the intermediate results of the development process is needed in order to define a user-centred PoA. Furthermore contextual conditions, such as available time and budget, influence the specification of the usability focused PDP (Kleinsmann, 2006; Dorst, 2008; Van Kuijk, 2010). However, most PDMs, such as Pahl & Beitz (1996) or VDI 2221(1986), seem to neglect these conditions. Therefore the second step focuses on making a detailed overview of product characteristics, scheduled intermediate development results and development process conditions.

Step 3 – Selection of (user-centred) development methods

Product developers are not aware of all the existing design methods and therefore do not use them. Furthermore Daalhuizen (2008) discusses that product developers automatically tend to stick to development methods they are familiar with without questioning if these development methods fit the intended development results. Therefore the third step supports developers in exploring and selecting appropriate and feasible development methods, which will lead to the desired development results.

Step 4 – Development method specification

Selecting a method does not guarantee that its results will be available and can be implemented within the timeframe of a development project (Van Kuijk, 2010). Further specification of the actual application of the selected development method is needed (Hoolhorst, 2010; Van Kuijk, 2010). The fourth step therefore focuses on describing required development activities, required input per activity, development techniques and allocation of resources.


The UCD Kick-off tool is unique in its systematic support in defining a detailed user-centred development approach, as well as in its support for:

  1. Making a complete overview of stakeholders tailored for use in user-centred PoA;
  2. Defining and scheduling intermediate results based on both the content of the assignment as well as contextual conditions;
  3. Facilitating the exploration and selection of appropriate and feasible methods for user-centred product development;
  4. Specification of the actual application of the selected development methods.


The UCD Kick-off tool will be evaluated during a workshop at two companies. During each workshop a core development team defines a user-centred PoA for one of their development projects using the UCD Kick-off tool.


The UCD Kick-off tool will be a part of the workbook released at the end of the DfU research program. This workbook describes the UCD Kick-off tool itself as well as workshop instructions. The templates for using the UCD Kick-off tool in product development practice will be made available through the DfU website.


The UCD kick-off tool can be seen as a reference methodology discussing aspects which need to be considered while defining a usability and user-centred PoA.  This handout provides an overview of the main steps of the UCD Kick-off tool and can be found on the Results page.