50 Years of Deign Research









User Design: Constructions of the “user” in the history of design research

Theodora Vardouli

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA


Keywords: user-centered design, history of design research, ergonomics, environmentbehavior-design research


Over the past 50 years of design research, the “user” has been consistently invoked as a measure of good design and as driver of design decisions. As scholars have variously recognized, the focus of design has in turn been displaced fromphysical objects to relationships between things/environments and their future users/occupants. In this paper I identify, compare, and critically analyse different techniques for anticipating or understanding such relationships drawing from original material produced in the context of the design methods movement, the Design Research Society (DRS), and the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA). I combine this material with histories of ergonomics that preceded these organizations’ founding and a brief commentary on contemporary user-cantered design (UCD) methods. This paper contributes a comprehensive comparative review of user-oriented design methods, alongside a critical outlook on continuities and ruptures between quantitative and qualitative figurations of the user in the history of design research.

This paper is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence.

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Cite this paper: Vardouli, T. (2016). User Design: Constructions of the “user” in the history of design research. Proceedings of DRS 2016, Design Research Society 50th Anniversary Conference. Brighton, UK, 27–30 June 2016.

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