Two recent articles show that users and use are starting to be seen. One is from a developer taking notice, the second is about a user giving notice.
The first, Please: think of the users!, by Joshua Marrinaci, recounts a story that all developers can tell. We all have seen others struggle, and we have struggled, with applications and interfaces that should be easier to use. Sometimes I pride myself on my ability to figure it out. But lately I just get annoyed at having to work hard to do something simple. Joshua's tips are excellent; especially the one about removing features.
The other tip I would add to the list (and that Joshua does describe) is getting out to watch people work. And if you're adding features to an existing product and application, then get out and observe your users. Watch them work, take notes, go home and think about what you've seen. Go back and ask specific, open-ended questions, and then listen. Listen to the stories, don't try to fix problems -- that comes later. But do get out there! The primary task of observation is to learn how the system, product, or application, fits into your user's work.
A second article,"Just Say No to Poorly Designed Software" appears in ACM TechNews, Volume 6, Issue 708: Wednesday, October 20, 2004. A couple of relevant excerpts:
Hannon contends that designers often disregard users' wants because the customer who asks for the system in the first place is usually looking for an affordable, easily deployable solution that interoperates with other campus systems, rather than fulfills users' needs. "Ease of use" is not highly prioritized by the customer on the list of system requirements, while user satisfaction is hardly ever a major criterion used by CIOs to assess the performance of integration teams. ... Hannon suggests that highest-level academic administrators should refuse to do business with software companies that do not interview potential users at the beginning of the design process, while users should only participate in feedback sessions held by systems integrators if they were interviewed during the design stage.
To this I can only say "Yes!" And also provide a link to Personal Computer Quality: A Guide for Victims and Vendors by Boris Beizer. This nearly 20 year old book is based on the philosophy that computer system quality will improve only when users and buyers are educated, and fed up, enough to demand it. Hopefully that time is approaching.