Stanford University Stanford Computer Science Department
Abstract    |    Introduction    |    Contacts    |   
   Competing Strategies

   What is PD?
   Political Push
   The Developer

Philosophical Perspective
   Design Philosophy


   Expert Systems Design
   Usability Engeering
   Value Senstive Design

Usability Engineering

Usability engineering is an approach to product development that is based on customer data and feedback and direct observation and interactions with customers to provide data than self-reporting techniques. Usability engineering begins in the conceptual phase with field studies and contextual inquiries to understand the functionality and design requirements of the product.

Too many products are difficult to learn, require manuals, or are simply counter-intuitive. These problems increase support and maintenance costs, decrease sales, productivity, and customer satisfaction.

Usability engineering is iterative design and evaluation to provide customer feedback on the usefulness and usability of a product's functionality and design throughout the development cycle. This results in products that are developed to meet the customers' needs.

Usability is comprised of six general attributes:

  • Utility
  • Learnability
  • Efficiency
  • Retainability
  • Errors
  • Satisfaction


Usability Engineering is an approach to computer related design that incorporates many features of other design processes. Although it does not maintain the consistent involvement of users of the software or hardware that is being developed, it still ensures that the user will have some say in the process. Often this is accomplished by having many steps in the process that include evaluations, field studies, and whole phases that deal with only design and prototyping. It is arguably more cost effective since there is less involvement between the implementers and the users of the systems. Yet Usability Engineering still has many tools for ensuring that the developers know their customers. Through prototyping and observation, this objective is met.

Ultimately, Usability Engineering is a more cost-effective approach to engineering when compared to Participatory Design. It incorporates many of the objectives set forth in Participatory Design including designing for the user and focusing design on what the user needs. Most companies find the Usability Engineering approach more attractive because of the lower costs and quicker development time. There are distinct phases where users are asked for feedback. In the other phases, developers may work on the specifications outlined from the feedback. Compared to Participatory Design, this approach may risk implementing too much in a phase and may not as readily produce a product that is what the user envisions.

Product Development
   Vendor Adoption
   Product Design

In the US
   New Context
   Current Use

   Applied PD

Abstract    |    Introduction    |    Contacts