We need to understand the user rather than technology

“People’s behavior makes sense if you think about it in terms of their goals, needs, and motives.” 

(Nobel Laureate Thomas Mann)

The study of the relationship between human and technology has evolved as one of the most dynamic and significant fields of technology research. Until quite recently, the scope of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) research was more focused on optimizing the traditional usability and utilitarian aspects of the service, and the HCI community more or less overlooked the social and emotional phenomena of interaction. But now the user is being regarded as an individual who has dreams and emotional experiences, and voluntarily takes a decision to use a service for personal and social purposes, instead of merely considering the user as a cognitive decision-maker or an expert obligated to use a service for work-related motives.

Thus, the shift of focus in HCI research has been from the traditional usability-centered view toward researching and designing for enjoyable and engaging experiences by highlighting the non-utilitarian aspects of interaction. Today the HCI field emphasizes an approach to research and design for enjoyable and engaging experiences: “Now it is no longer adequate just to avoid bad experiences; we have to find methods for designing good ones” [3]. We need to take into account aspects that go beyond the obvious. User experience is seen as something desirable, though what exactly something means remains open and debatable [8].

Therefore, one of the greatest challenges is to incorporate the “voice of the customer” into the design of new products and services [9]. The involvement of users and gaining a deeper understanding of them ensures that the product or service will be suitable for its intended purpose in the environment in which it will be used [1]. As stated by Cockton [4], the right question is this “What do users really want?”


Given the foregoing, for understanding what motivates users to use a product or service, it is important to understand and identify what is important to them. Design work should not be based on generic models of the users [1], yet understanding about users still often remains at the level of only very basic user characteristics. Developers often have a vague or contradictory idea of the intended users of the service, and may base scenarios on people similar to themselves [6]. Also, developers often underestimate the diversity of users [5]. Such an approach does not help designers develop insights or identify the linkage of users’ in-depth service needs, motivations, and values to technology features [7], and, as a consequence, detail-level and fundamental design decisions are made without an explicit understanding of users’ in-depth service needs and core motivations to service usage.

It is much easier to design successful services if there is some understanding of the people who are likely to use them. Also, it is critical to the success of a service that appropriate and representative users are involved in the development work [5]. In consequence, today’s technology research emphasizes deep user-drivenness: we try to understand the person as a user of a technology. We should listen to what people say in order to find out the explicit knowledge that people are able to express in words; watch what people do and what they use in order to obtain information on observable experience; investigate what people think and know to achieve their perceptions of experience; and understand how people feel in order to be able to empathize with them [2].

We cannot design an experience, but with a sensitive and skilled way of understanding users, we can design for an experience [10]. We should make sure that we have the best possible understanding and prerequisites to design the (service) elements that influence user experience [2].


[1] Abras, C., Maloney-Krichmar, D., and Preece, J. (2004) User-centred design. Bainbridge, W., Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction. Thousand Oaks, California, USA: Sage Publications.
[2] Arhippainen, L. (2009) Studying User Experience: Issues and Problems of Mobile Services – Case ADAMOS: User Experience (Im)possible to Catch? Doctoral thesis, Oulu, Finland: Oulu University Press.
[3] Blythe, M. and Wright, P. (2003) Introduction – from usability to enjoyment. In: Blythe, M.A., Overbeeke, K., Monk, A.F., & Wright, P.C. (eds), Funology: From Usability to Enjoyment. Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
[4] Cockton, G. (2008) Putting value into e-valu-ation. In: Law, E.L.-C., Hvannberg, E., & Cockton, G. (eds), Maturing Usability – Quality in Software, Interaction and Value. Springer, pp. 287-317.
[5] Kujala, S. and Kauppinen, M. (2004) Identifying and Selecting Users for User-Centered Design. NordiCHI’04, ACM Press, pp. 297-303.
[6] Kujala, S. and Mäntylä, M. (2000) How effective are user studies? In: McDonald, S., Waern, Y. and Cockton, G. (Eds.). People and Computers XIV. Springer- Verlag, pp. 61-71.
[7] Kujala, S. and Väänänen-Vainio-Mattila, K. (2009) Value of information systems and products: Understanding the users’ perspective and values. Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application (JITTA), Vol. 9, No. 4, pp. 23-39.
[8] Law, E., Roto, V., Vermeeren, A.O., Kort, J. and Hassenzahl, M. (2008) Towards a shared definition of user experience. Proceeding of the 26th annual CHI conference extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems (CHI’08), ACM Press, pp. 2395-2398.
[9] Van der Haar, J.W., Kemp, R.G.M., and Omta, O. (2001) Creating value that cannot be copied. Industrial Marketing Management, Vol. 30, pp. 627-636.
[10] Wright, P., McCarthy, J., and Meekison, L. (2003) Making sense of experience. In: Blythe, M.A., Overbeeke, K., Monk, A.F., & Wright, P.C. (eds), Funology: From Usability to Enjoyment. Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 43-53.