An Exploratory Study of Usability Practice from User-Centered Design View: Meanings, Methods, and the Current Situation in Taiwan's Internet Industry.
An Exploratory Study of Usability Practice from
User-Centered Design View: Meanings, Methods,
and the Current Situation in Taiwan's Internet Industry.
Ruby Kuo1 and Jim Jiunde Lee2
1 Graduate Student, Institutes of Communication Studies, National Chiao Tung University,
2 Assistant Professor, Institutes of Communication Studies, National Chiao Tung
University, Taiwan, R.O.C.
Abstract. This paper intends to contribute as the first investigation of the
Taiwan Internet Industry's adoption of the UCD approach. The results of an
in-depth interview study give a thorough reflection of the reality – the UCD
method, both in perception and in practice, come up short. Moreover, the
study found that the most widely used methods of usability are interview,
prototype, usability test, focus group and design guideline, but they are used in
a fragmental, informal and summative manner. Some major factors that affect
UCD implementation in Taiwan Internet industry are consistent with prior
research, but some are not.
Despite the continuous effort and abundant results achieved by HCI researchers and
professionals in the past two decades, poor usability remains a major problem for
many commercial Web sites. Some research suggests that Web developers fail to
recognize the importance of User-Centered Design (UCD)  and thus are unaware
that better methods are needed to improve their design to engage their targeted
audience [19, 26, 15-16]. Inspite of an increasing amount of research on UCD
practice in many western countries, no paper examining this topic can be found in
Taiwan. Therefore, this paper intends to be the first study investigating how the
UCD approach has integrated into the Taiwan Internet industry.
The major objectives of this study include: Firstly, present an outline of usability
practice in the Taiwan internet industry. Secondly, compare with prior overseas
research in order to discover the main restraint factors of UCD adoption in local
organizations. Finally, future researchers can develop theories and methods to
match the needs and thus increase their willingness to embrace usability in web
design based on these findings. This article is organized as follows: In the second
section, a thorough survey of related literature is conducted to clarify the boundaries
of this topic. Most implication issues are then reviewed to develop a concept
structure guiding this research. Section 3 describes the data collection method.
Section 4 presents and discusses results of our preliminary finding, followed by
conclusions in Section 5.
2 Literature Review
Here we concentrated on the practice level of Web Usability, especially from
the view of UCD suggested as the answer for a web site's success by many
intellectuals (e.g., [9, 14, 27]). Several studies have confirmed that there are many
factors affecting the performance of UCD exercise in an organization. To provide a
complete understanding, relevant issues will be discussed as below.
2.1 Overview of UCD
UCD is becoming the prevailing paradigm of developing usable products ; its
origin in the seminal work can be traced back to Norman and Draper, that claimed the
designer must put their focus on human [21, 27]. Although the definition of UCD
varied due to different researchers’ interest, they all emphasize the importance of
placing the users in the center and actively involving them in all development
processes [8, 17, 23, 27]. Moreover, UCD is about continuing interactivity with the
future consumer to examine their need to direct design revision. A multi-disciplinary
team cooperating with each other is also another essential character [9, 12].
2.2 Key Success Factors of UCD Practice
In short, maybe the idea of UCD is as simple as inviting the user to join a way of
development. However, implications of this concept are surprisingly complex  and
hard to perform in the field. Gould, Boies, & Lewis discover that those possible
obstructions are coming from two dimensions – organizational and technical . A
follow-up article presents “the toolkit for strategic usability” to extend and interpret
these problems, and consists of the organizational and methodological approaches, the
organizational demographics (such as size of the company, size of the usability
organization, or the type of company), and the frequency and effectiveness of this
UCD method usage . Some other research results show a similar suggestion:
besides UCD infrastructure and effectiveness of UCD in development projects, the
business management commitment is an important component, too [7-8].
Gould proposed four principles to assist a business to implement UCD, which
includes: 1) Early-continual-focus on users, 2) Integrated design, 3) Early and
continual user testing, and 4) Iterative design . On the other hand, Vredenburg
Isensee, & Righi concluded many guidelines from their study to raise desire and
performance of UCD practice in the field. Some significant advice includes: review
the status of organization and products to determine the start point for adopting UCD;
acquire support from management level, every member in the development team
agrees with UCD and has suitable knowledge, and the company commits to these
activities… ,etc .
To put the matter more concretely, it is impossible to reach the goal of UCD adoption
in one step [2. 13], because it usually starts with the recognition of demand (both
employees and employer), and then there are many dimensions of maturity (include
related knowledge, skills, methods, and resource) that need time to advance. To
illustrate how UCD is established in an organization, we made the summary by
quoting from Venturi and Troost’s article as below: “when every phase of the product
lifecycle follows the principles of User Centered Design, when UCD team is provided
with the proper skills and experience, it is supported by the management commitment
and a proper UCD infrastructure and when awareness and culture are properly
disseminated in and out of the organization.” 
2.3 Related Research
Since the end of the ’90s, several studies have focused on the status of UCD practice
investigation. The contemporary importance of this concept is perceivable and it
provides an opportunity of a reality check to reflect the need of HCI community .
Our study reviewed those crucial articles and found the earliest survey traced back to
1995. The researchers of this paper have learned that both usability and the usability
specialist did not receive respect in companies at that time . Later, a survey
conducted by Rosenbaum and his colleagues discovered many meaningful issues. For
example, resistance, lack of related understanding and ability to communicate
cost-benefit effect of usability rather than the size of organization are more essential
elements need to be considered carefully when UCD is adopted in any company .
Additional research conducted in other western countries have agreeable and
analogous conclusions [6, 25]. In addition to this, the notice of cost-effectiveness
also reflects its value on usability methods selected and applied. Most researchers
agree that informal and discount methods are accepted widely [11, 25, 28]. The ratio
of usability experts recruited in a production team is very low, and is far away from
the 10% that scholars suggest . Moreover, according the statistics of a study,
30% of respondents report that they taught themselves to attain knowledge of UCD
In the end, unlike those papers giving a complete picture of UCD practice in IT
industry mentioned above, Peissner & Röse focus specifically on the Web design
industry in Germany. They have found that although 90% of their survey subjects
considered usability as an important or very important issue of their work, just a
minimum of companies treated it seriously and executed quality usability tests .
In other words, maybe organizations claimed that users participated in their design
process, but there is a gap between theory and implementation resulting from the
limitation on their ability and maturity of usability practiced in the organizations.
2.4 Concept structure of this research
To sum up, organizations and methodologies are two influential components for
usability embraced in business. However, as emphasized by Rosenbaum et al., the
elements between each other are usually related and interplayed . Therefore we
will construct a research concept map (Figure 1) based on the conclusions of ISO
13407, Jokela & Abrahamsson, and Vredenburg et. al. to refine and determine vital
factors of UCD practices. We will then use it to guide this study for data collection,
analysis and discussion.
1. organization awareness
2. commitment for development of
3. sets clear usability objectives
4. ensure the competitive
performance level of UCD
ability and infrastructure
5. size and type of company
1. UCD Multidisciplinary Team
infrastructure 1. all key skills must be represented
2. usability dept. on UCD team Design
2. team members must be able to
or specialist Life-Cycle Practice
3. plentiful budget understand one another Management
3. always aware of what everyone
and schedule 1. process UCD
for user study else was doing 2. guideline
4. awareness about usability
4. training and so 3. check-point
on for UCD 5. respect of UCD work by project
skill improving staff
Active Involvement of Users
1. involves implementing a set of
activities in whole process
2. starts with an understanding of
the target and competitor
3. iterative design with user
evaluation and validation
4. data gathered during lifecycle
can be employed to improve the
follow-on version of the product
Fig. 1 Concept structure of Usability Practice with UCD View
The diagram above thoroughly displays essential factors for UCD practice in a
company, and represents their relations from left to right. The extreme left is the
component “Resources”, which include infrastructure, specialist, ability for UCD
activities, and its sufficiency is influenced by constituents of “Company Commitment”.
It also affects the performance of the other two sections next to it,
multidisciplinary-team and users participation. Those four components are
interplaying and cycling in every step of product developments. Furthermore, the
second component from the right is characterizing the nature of iterative design
process called “Life-Cycle management”, and it contains processes, guidelines and
check-points for project management assistance. Finally, with this combination
working perfectly, the objective of UCD practice can then achieved.
3 Research Method
Unlike relevant researches held aboard using survey with questionnaire, this study is
based on our prior examination of the usability method usage in Taiwan Web design
and purpose. Using the Qualitative method can picture the phenomenon reflecting
reality and provide abounding contextual information. Therefore, a semi-structure
in-depth interview was designed with purposeful sampling strategies, data were then
assembled from workers in Internet industry to share their real daily experiences.
The study expected to get a throughout understanding of what is their perception and
attitude in usability/UCD and how they apply it to their work. To obtain this goal,
our research questions can be specifically listed as below: 1) How much are they
concerned about users or usability, and do they have sufficient knowledge and
capability? 2) What are the methods and techniques they used? 3) How do users
participate in Web development? 4) What are the major factors that affect usability
implementation and which of the UCD suggestions are actually fulfilled?
To extend the coverage of samples and to improve richness of data, there are two
purposeful sampling strategies selected: intensity sampling and maximum variation
sampling. Between 2005/9/2 ~ 2005/9/27, we successfully invited 14 volunteers that
conform to sample requirement to join this study through relationship network.
Those subjects have a rich experience of web development, and their job functions
cover all the major members of a regular web project development team including
directors, project managers, web designers, programmers and usability specialists.
Every interview took around 2 hours with tape recording, note taking and several
printed forms to aid verification. After that and before result analysis, the Meaning
Condensation techniques suggested by Kvale were also used to enhance the reliability
of interviewees . Next, data assessment and evaluation were conducted
following the guideline of Qualitative study-reading conversation word for word,
repeatedly and exhaustively, with an open-mind. Based on the objective of this
paper, we search, refine and reduce meaning units of data for coding and classifying.
Finally, the result is presented applying a categorization analysis method with a
quantizing level consideration to recognize the implication of repeated patterns and
4 Results and Discussion
4.1 Respondents’ Profile
Table 1 demonstrates the subjects’ profile, such as gender, professional experience,
job function and education background. There is equal number of Female and Male
coded with F01~F07 and M01~M07 for identification, and most of them have 6~10
years experience in Web design. In the whole, maybe the task division in the
multi-disciplinary design teams in Taiwan is not as exquisite as their counter- parts
overseas, and a dedicated usability specialist rarely exists in almost any business.
Besides, as column two in the table shows, a member may need to cover several
related functions. For example, a PM usually takes the whole responsibility of
managing a project, but he or she also needs to put effort into planning jobs like Web
service, structure, and flow design. Some of them even cover page layout or copy
writing. Beyond that, this study also discovered that education background does not
relate to their work, some interviewee report that they chose their job for interest, and
they accumulate their competence by work experience and autodidacts.
Table. 1 Profile of respondents
Job Function Education Background
Additionally, we determined the size of those respondents’ companies by numbers of
employees. There are four levels defined in this paper as: B (more than 150), M
(61to149) , S (20~60) and SS (under 10), and the distribution of our samples in order
are 33%, 17%, 33%, and 17%.
4.2 Usability Knowledge & Skills
Through concrete realization and comparison of those subjects’ understanding,
experience, recognition of UCD or usability and how they affect their daily work,
we found that the degree of favor and perception will influence their concept on UCD.
However, the experience of usabilty activity has no direct improvement on their UCD
learning. Furthermore, even though there is no significant difference between
individual education or job function, analysis based upon “job function” and
“education” grouping showed subjects with designer or design training related jobs
have better grades than others.
Except for this finding, according to the total conceptions brought out by all
respondents and their self-report of UCD knowledge and skill, and the way they
acquire their knowledge and skill, this study has found: there is a serious shortage of
UCD enlightenment and resource both in internal organization and external
circumstance of Taiwan Internet industry. Most subjects’ related knowledge and
skills are learned from experience, discussion with coworkers and users’ feedback
after their Web site went online. The participants with positive attitude of usability
tend to emphasize that their ability and knowledge is insufficient and will seek
additional resources and assistance. In contrast, the subjects with negative opinion or
less understanding of UCD always stated their experience is sufficient, or their
companies do not care about usability.
4.3 Web Design Method & UCD
When asked to specify which design method was taken in his or her Web
development, nearly every respondent’s description is linear procedure. Similar to
foreign practice, those steps usually start with objective and requirement
establishment, then progress from Web site structure defining to surface design, and
go through varied tests that depends on organizational custom before official release
and on-line operation. However, it is totally unlike UCD approach that emphasize
on iterative aspect. Moreover, the pressure of deadline becomes a major factor for
cost-benefit tradeoffs considerations. In other word, most subjects agree: usually their
work is to satisfy business goals rather than users’. Some helpful method for
accomplishing UCD product suggested by many studies like usability test and
prototyping are seldom used. If they are used, it is only because it is required and
the schedule permits. Such circumstances only occur in companies of size M and B.
4.4 How Users Are Involved
This study has an interesting finding that user may have different meaning for
different people or company and business needs always has higher priority over user
needs. For example, when user is a specific person that is allowed direct contact
(like a specific client), respondents usually rely on he or she to provide the details of
user demand and spare the effort for finding it. However, in contrast to that, if user
means mass audience that cannot be easily imaged, most respondents still state that
they seldom conduct any activity to improve the understanding of users. In fact, as
the data collected from this research shows, major methods used for estimate design
to meet user desire are very different with the concept of UCD. The top 10
most-frequent activities in our result are presented from high to low, by their number
of mention, as below: 1) discussion with team members, 2) comments from customer
service dept., 3) log files analysis, 4) market survey, 5) data collected from campaign,
6) check-point for confirmation, 7) interview (including user and expert), 8) user
profile description, 9) competitor analysis, 10) prototype and usability test. Only a
few of them, such as no. 2, 5, 7 and 10, consider involvement of the real users.
4.5 Status of UCD Practiced
Finally, in the light of this survey, it is proper to declare that usability practice in
Taiwan Internet industry is at a primitive stage due to doubt of necessity. Compared
to Nielsen's eight stages in practices of evolution model , half of the subjects
consider "usability dose not matter", and the other 25% have "confidence in their
general staff having enough ability for this issue". Only very few companies regard it
as a serious mission and try to accomplish it with usability engineering or user
research to improve design if schedule is possible. Compared with prior study, this
result is conformable to the finding of a 1995 study. Based on our data, we have
found that lack of UCD awareness is visible in four levels: industry environment,
organization, designer and user itself. Though major causes of this phenomenon
conform with abroad scholars’ presentation, a few of them haven’t appeared in past
related studies, such as: local market scale is too small, local business usually have
less motivation for RD, local users are unaware of their desire for better Web design,
and the problem is not indefinable unless online, …etc.
Another result of this study is “different companies may possess different levels of
usability maturity” that confirmed Peissner & Röse’s result . Besides, there is no
direct evidence to prove that larger companies will give more respect of UCD.
However, as our results show, only a few participants report their company will invite
real users to join some design activities to correct or improve their design, and they
are all working at size M and above companies. In short, there may be no direct
correlation between company size and UCD adoptive, but it is true that only
large-scale organization can offer applicable resources for usability participation.
In summary, results of the study show that although interviewees claim they and their
companies consider users as an important issue, most of them lack sufficient
knowledge of usability. Furthermore, they do not have proper and systematic
understanding of related topics of UCD, either. As the industry matures, most
companies develop complete and similar design methodology, but a huge gap remains
between their methods and the suggestions of UCD approach. This study also
identifies some methods during the study, which include interview, prototype,
usability test, focus group and design guideline. Though commonly mentioned by
some participants, they are used in a fragmental, informal and summative manner.
Consequently, this research makes clear that different companies may possess
different levels of usability maturity, most of them still doubt the necessity of it in
Taiwan. Moreover, compared with prior research conducted in western countries,
though our result reflects most of their finding [6, 11, 18, 20, 22, 25, 28], one
especially noteworthy result is that our portrayal of the perspective of UCD adoption
in Taiwan Internet industry is more similar to the early circumstance that conclude by
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