User-Centered Design Framework: building effective online tools

Wageningen Environmental Research wants to make its data and research results better accessible to non-scientists. To this end, we have adopted a user-centered design approach in the development of online tools.

Policy makers, the private sector and citizens increasingly look online for data and information on the living environment. Many online tools such as digital atlases, portals and adaptation support tools are developed to make large amounts of research data accessible and usable for non-scientists. However, users often experience difficulties in finding the information they need. Also, understanding and interpreting the information they have discovered may prove difficult. As a result, tools often do not reach their potential. 

The UCD framework replaces a research or data-driven design approach in application development.  It leads to usable and effective tools that support users in finding answers to their questions and information needs. The framework is based upon an explicit understanding of users, tasks, and environments; the techniques are driven and refined by user-centered evaluation; and it addresses the whole user experience. 

When would I use this method?

Any application (website or tool) for communicating information to a wider audience such as policy makers, citizens or experts from other domains, will benefit from a user-centered design approach. It guides the design team in understanding the target users, their information needs and the context of use, that may be different in other countries for instance.

What are the main advantages?

  • The UCD framework involves users from the start of the project and throughout the design and development process and therefore leads to products that meet user expectations and requirements
  • It includes techniques for testing that produce feedback on the usefulness of the design or prototype before development - thus reducing costs
  • It is iterative and aligns with agile software development techniques
  • The framework can be applied to develop new applications in unfamiliar contexts and for new user groups

How do I apply the UCD framework?

The UCD framework can be applied in almost any application development project; and is especially useful when user requirements are not yet accurately defined or when these are very diverse.

You can contact us for advice, for managing the process, or for conducting specific phases such as user testing and evaluation.

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Further reading

Cases which use this method

AgMIP Impacts Explorer