Our Book: Foundations for Designing User-Centered Systems

Most systems are socio-technical systems, rather than just technical systems. In socio-technical systems, performance is a result of the interactions between people, technology and the context in which the system operates (this includes the physical, and organisational contexts). The corollary of this is that if you want to design and develop socio-technical systems you need to understand all three of these three dimensions, and how they interact. In other words, you have to understand how people work in particular contexts if you want to develop systems that are acceptable to their users. The best way of doing this is to adopt a user-centred design approach.

We (me, Frank Ritter and Elizabeth Churchill) wrote Foundations for Designing User-Centered Systems for people who are involved in designing and developing socio-technical systems. The book is based on our combined experience of more than 90 years working in industry and academia, designing developing and researching socio-technical systems in a range of application domains.

The book was deliberately written to appeal to an interdisciplinary audience because systems development is an interdsiciplinary endeavour. Most books in this area concentrate on what you need to know in order to design user centred systems. In contrast, we not only consider the what (describing the knowledge and issues that are important), but also the why (how these issues will affect the developed system). In other words, it’s a book that was designed to bridge the gap between the people who design the front end of the system, and the software engineers who develop the underlying application. Based on the plaudits of the highly-respected people in the software engineering community, notably Barry Boehm and Ian Sommerville, we think we’ve succeeded in getting the balance right.

There is a lot to learn and understand about people, so we organised this into four sections:

  • Anthropometrics (issues related to user’s bodies)
  • Behaviour (issues related to basic perception)
  • Cognition (issues related to information processing)
  • Social (issues related to how people interact with the world around them)

We sometimes describe this as the ABCS framework, which is one way of organising what we know about people. In the book we describe some other ways to organise that can be used to organise this information.

Since the book was released in 2014, we’ve accumulated over 60,000 chapter downloads. There is also a Chinese edition of the book available.