Usage-centered design

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Usage-centered design is an approach to user interface design based on a focus on user intentions and usage patterns. It analyzes users in terms of the roles they play in relation to systems and employs abstract (essential) use cases[1] for task analysis. It derives visual and interaction design from abstract prototypes based on the understanding of user roles and task cases.

Usage-centered design was introduced by Larry Constantine and Lucy Lockwood. The primary reference is their book.[2]

Usage-centered design methods

Usage-centered design is largely based on formal, abstract models such as models of interaction between user roles, UML workflow models and task case and role profiles. Usage-centered design proponents argue for abstract modelling while many designers use realistic personas, scenarios and high-fidelity prototypes. The techniques have been applied with particular success in complex software projects, some of which have been reported in case studies.[3]

Usage-centered design and activity-centered design approach

Usage-centered design share some common ideas with activity-centered design. It is concerned more with the activities of users but not the users per se. In [Constantine, 2006] an integrated framework is presented where the models of Usage-centered design are enriched with concepts from the Activity theory.


  1. See Constantine (1995) and Constantine and Lockwood (2001)
  2. Constantine and Lockwood (1999); see also Constantine (1996)
  3. See, for example, Windl (2002) and Strope (2003)
  • Constantine L. Activity Modeling: Toward a Pragmatic Integration of Activity Theory with Usage-Centered Design, 2006
  • Constantine L., and Lockwood, L. "Structure and Style in Use Cases for User Interfaces." In M. van Harmelan, Ed., Object Modeling and User Interface Design. Boston: Addison-Wesley, 2001.
  • Constantine L., and Lockwood, L. Software for Use: A Practical Guide to the Essential Models and Methods of Usage-Centered Design. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1999. (Russian translation 2004, Chinese translation 2004, Japanese translation 2005.)
  • Constantine, L. “Usage-Centered Software Engineering: New Models, Methods, and Metrics.” In Purvis, M. (ed.) Software Engineering: Education & Practice. Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Computer Society Press, 1996.
  • Constantine, L. "Essential Modeling: Use Cases for User Interfaces.” ACM Interactions, 2 (2): 34-46, April 1995.
  • Strope, J. (2003) “Designing for Breakthroughs in User Performance.” In L. Constantine, ed., Performance by Design: Proceedings of forUSE 2003, the Second International Conference on Usage-Centered Design. Rowley, MA: Ampersand Press.
  • Windl, H. (2002) “Designing a Winner: Creating STEP 7 lite with Usage-Centered Design.” In L. Constantine, ed., forUSE 2002: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Usage-Centered Design. Rowley, MA: Ampersand Press.

Further reading

Usage-centered design FAQ