Licentiate thesis 2003-003

Usability and Users' Health Issues in Systems Development

Inger Boivie

March 2003


The figures of reported health problems in computer-supported, administrative, work are alarmingly high and increasing. The main health problems are visual discomfort, repetitive strain injuries (RSI) and stress-related disorders. Some important risk factors are poor workstation design, constrained work postures, repetitive work and long hours of computer use every day. Others are high demands, poor control over workload and work pace and poor relations to management and colleagues. There is also evidence that poor design and usability of the computer systems as well as technical problems with the computer add to the pressure perceived by the user, which may in its turn cause stress-related disorders.

Systems (software) development is often technology-driven and the design and contents of the resulting system shapes the work situation, including factors affecting the users' health and well-being. There are numerous examples in the literature describing how poorly designed systems fail to support the real work practices, introducing new ones that are inadequate and more time-consuming. Thus these, supposedly supporting, computer systems get in the way of efficient and effective work, adding a burden on the workers rather than helping them out.

This thesis tries to describe some of the relations between the systems development process and users' health complaints, in a work context. I also discuss whether or not the concepts of usability and user experience can be used to address users' health issues in the systems development process. The main results indicate that although usability must be addressed, it is not sufficient. Occupational health issues must be explicitly integrated in systems development, and be given priority. This thesis also describes some potential methods and techniques for doing that.

Available as PDF (3.1 MB)

Download BibTeX entry.