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About Design for Usability

Click here for the Design for Usability Conference held in London, April 2000

In the early 1980’s John Gould and his colleagues at IBM defined an approach they called design for usability. The fundamental principles (from their 1991 article) were:

  • Early focus on users and tasks
  • Integrated design
  • Early – and continual – user testing
  • Iterative design

While some of these ideas are now more than 20 years old, we believe that they are the key to successful interactive systems. It is not new techniques and practices that users need, but the conviction of software and web development teams to resist technology and designer-focused approaches to design.

In the services and courses we provide, we take the approach that user-centred design is broadly equivalent to Gould's design for usability. This view is supported by many in the Human-Computer Interaction community and reinforced by the ISO standard on human-centred design.

1984 Olympic message system booth (IBM)

Unfortunately the term 'user-centred design' is also used to describe a range of activities or approaches that do not involve understanding or observing users. Hence, we prefer to qualify our approach with the 'design for usability' ideal.


John D Gould, Stephen J Boies and Clayton Lewis (1991) 'Making usable, useful, productivity-enhancing computer applications' in Communications of the ACM, Volume 34,  Issue 1 (January 1991), ACM Press, New York

ISO Standard: Human-centred design processes for interactive systems (13407:1999)

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