Exploring Usability

Introduction     Summary     Appendices     Further reading    


This web page gives an introduction to the PhD thesis of Mieke van der Bijl-Brouwer titled 'Exploring Usability; design for dynamic and diverse use situations". The full thesis can be downloaded from the repository of the University of Twente. The practical results of the research are summarized in the guidelines to design for dynamic and diverse use situations.


This research concerns the design process of easy to use products. The usability of products is influenced by the situation in which the product is used. Consequently, when products are used in dynamic and diverse use situations (DDUS) their level of usability varies. For example, a compact photo camera leads to different usability issues when using it to take pictures of yourself and friends at a party, than when using it to take pictures of the environment on vacation. For designers it could be difficult to predict these use situations and their consequences for usability. A study in design practice showed that designers often use knowledge of personal experiences or previous design projects for this purpose. However, this knowledge is often not shared between members of a design team. Therefore a design support was developed consisting of a set of guidelines aimed at creating an explicit frame of reference of DDUS. Applying this frame of reference could assumingly improve the quality of team decision making and usability evaluations. Furthermore, the support included the Envisioning Use workshop technique which is aimed at sharing knowledge of DDUS in a design team, by means of techniques such as storytelling, scenario analysis and role-playing. Both the workshop and the guidelines were developed iteratively by applying and evaluating these supports in design practice and student projects. The evaluations showed that the workshop successfully led to a "shared vision" on product use. This shared vision was experienced as valuable in team decision making processes. The application of the guidelines furthermore showed that working with an explicit frame of reference indeed improves usability evaluations. Finally the studies showed that "exploring usability" is a valuable approach in creating the explicit frame of reference. This approach combines exploring the connections between DDUS and usability issues, with verifying these connections.

Students applying the guidelines to the case of a carrier bike


Appendix 10 of the thesis shows the final workbook and how it was revised based on the evaluation of the preceding version of the workbook. You can download a pdf which shows the differences between the two versions here. The final workbook was translated in a booklet which can be downloaded here.

Further reading

This research was part of the Design for Usability research project