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Professor Alison Black

Areas of interest

Bridging research and practice with research that addresses real-world communication needs, particularly:

  • in organisation-to-consumer settings
  • supporting individual decision-making (for example, relating to health, financial or other behavioural choices)
  • involving uptake of digital tools and digital inclusion.

These are contexts where corporate and regulatory agendas influence design decisions, and where there are often a range of technology options, each with specific strengths and weaknesses. The challenge of user-centred design is to navigate through the constraints and options, and to develop solutions that genuinely reflect the capabilities and needs of the different kinds of people who will use them.


Alison's career began in cognitive psychology, first as an undergraduate at Sussex University and then as a PhD researcher at Cambridge University. She became interested in how people use information, and how technology might support them to find information more easily and understand and use it better.

Alison developed this interest during her postdoctoral work in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at Reading (1987–90), just as "what you see is what you get" (WYSIWYG) computing made document design an everyday task, and also enabled the creation of hypertexts (the precursor to the linked web pages we take for granted today).

As opportunities to access and interact with information suddenly expanded with the world wide web, Alison went on to put research into practice, leading the human factors team in the London office of the international design consultancy IDEO (1990–2000), and working on projects ranging from public-facing information on transport systems to people's private notes, memos and communications on personal devices such as mobile phones.

Alison rejoined the Department in 2011 after running her own research consultancy for 10 years.

Selected publications

Books, monographs and published reports

Black, A. (2003–8) Design Council's web pages on user-centred design

The Citizen's Passport: a guide to the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. (2001) (Book and audio CD prepared for readers with learning disabilities and their carers) Citizenship Foundation/Princess Diana Memorial Trust/United Response

The Digital Hug. (1999) Special issue of Interactions. (November/December)
Issue devoted to EU-funded project on game and picture communication, written jointly by project team members from IDEO, Nokia, Netherlands Design Institute, UIAH (Helsinki University of Art and Design), University of Vienna, Meru Research

Black, A. (1997) International Perceptions of UK Design Capability London: The Design Council

Project team report Right time, Right place: Customer information strategy. (1993) Publicly available from London Underground, cited in Hansard after parliamentary debate, 1994

Verplank, W., Fulton, J., Black, A. and Moggridge, W. (1993) From observation to invention. InterCHI'93 Tutorial. New York: ACM

Black, A. and Rayner, M. (1992) Just Read the Label: Understanding nutrition information in numeric verbal and graphic communication. 147 pp. London: HMSO

Black, A. (1991) The Monotype Publishing guide and Glossary. 34 pp. London: Monotype Typography

Black, A. (1990) Typefaces for desktop publishing: a user guide. 106 pp. London: Architecture Design and Technology Press


Black, A., Gibb, A., Carey, C., Barker, S., Leake, C. and Solomons, L. (2013) Designing a questionnaire to gather carer input to pain assessment for hospitalized people with dementia. Visible Language, 47/2, 37–60.

Black, A. & Stanbridge, K.L. (2012) Documents as 'Critical Incidents' in Organization to Consumer Communication, Visible Language, 46/3, 246–281.

Scarborough, P., Rayner, M., Stockley, L. & Black, A. (2007) Nutrition Professionals' Perception of the Healthiness of Individual Foods. Public Health Nutrition, 10 (4), 346–53

O'Hara, K., Black, A. & Lipson, M. (2006) Everyday practices with mobile video telephony, Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 871–80, New York: ACM

Black, A. (2003) Why I work in User Experience Consulting. In Koskinen et al (edit) Empathic design: User experience in product design. Helsinki: IT press 147–152

Black, A. Developing appliances that support continuity of action (or why a fridge computer won't work for me). (2002) Poster presented at 1AD Conference on Appliance Design, Bristol

Black, A (1998) Empathic design: User focused strategies for innovation. In Breakthrough innovation for new product development, London: IBC

Black, A., Brown, T. and Stegmann, T.F. (1997) Flex, connect and communicate: user research in concept development. EU funded workshop, Royal College of Art

Black, A. & Buur, J. (1996) Making solid user interfaces work. Information Design Journal, 8/2, 99–108

Black, A. & Buur, J. (1995) GUIs and SUIs: More of the same of something different? In Y. Anzai, K. Ogawa and H. Mori (eds) Symbiosis of human and artefact, 187–192. North Holland: Elsevier

Black, A., Bayley, O., Burns, C., Kuuluvainen, I. & Stoddard, J. (1994) Keeping viewers in the picture: real world usability procedures in the development of a television control interface. CHI '94 Conference Companion, 234–244. New York: ACM

Black, A. & Watts, D. (1993) Proof-reading monospaced and proportionally-spaced typeface: should we check typewritten or typeset text? Visible Language, 27/3, 362–77

Black, A. & Boag, A. (1992) Choosing binary or greyscale bitmaps: some consequences for users. Proceedings of Electronic Publishing '92, 247–60. Cambridge, CUP

Black, A., Wright, P., Black, D. & Norman, K. (1992) Consulting on-line dictionary information while reading. Hypermedia, 4/3, 145–69

Black, A. (1991) On-line consultation of definitions and examples: implications for the design for interactive dictionaries. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 5/2, 149–66

Black, A. (1991) The Apple Macintosh interface. Information Design Journal, 5/3, 239–40

Black, A. (1990) Visible planning on paper and on screen. Behaviour & Information Technology, 9, 283–96

Black, A. (1990) Teaching computer-based document design. In Re-defining the humanities? The implications of computers in teaching and research. Ed. D. Miall, 149–58, Oxford: OUP

Baker, R., Black, A,. Crampton-Smith, G. & Verplank, W. (1990) Hand tools or head tools? SIGGRAPH '90 Panel Proceedings, 8.1–8.24. New York, ACM

Black, A. (1989) From desktop publishing to computer assisted typography. Information Design Journal, 5, 247–50

Black, A. (1986) The effect of glossaries on jurors' comprehension in fraud trials. In Improving the presentation of information to juries in fraud trials, 1–15, London: HMSO

Black, A., Freeman, P. & Johnson-Laird, P.N. (1986) Plausibility and the comprehension of text. British Journal of Psychology, 77, 51–62


Black, A. (1996) Review of Public Access Systems: Bringing Computer Power to People. Ergonomics Abstracts, 28/3, 371–2

Black, A. (1992) Review of Tufte's 'Envisioning Information.' International Journal of Man-machine Studies, 37/3

Black, A. (1990) Review of Rivlin, Lewis and Cooper's 'Guidelines for screen design' and Horn's 'Mapping Hypertext,' Information Design Journal, 5/3, 259–61


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