Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Independence and Dignity in product design

I was reading a great ethnographic paper on how people use products and what happens when products don’t meet our needs. In one case, an elderly user had several clocks in one place. A digital clock was big enough to read, but she didn’t know how to set the alarm. An analog clock was not readable, but she could set the alarm. The things we will do to accomplish what we need!! Interestingly, she did not blame the product designers, but instead felt incompetent.

Another example was a short person who could not reach the cabinet over the stove. So she grabbed a broom and knocked the item she needed out of the cabinet. In the process, she knocked a few others out too, creating a fire hazard when the stove was on (or if she forgot to remove it).

The purpose of the paper was to highlight two very important user requirements that we often forget about:

Independence – the product should allow you to complete whatever tasks you need to without help. Referring to a manual or calling customer service is not an acceptable solution. Even asking a friend can be a problem, especially for demographics like elderly or children who are afraid of being considered incompetent.

Dignity – the product should not make you look foolish when completing whatever tasks you need to complete. Even when someone can accomplish a task quickly and accurately, the product fails when the user looks foolish.

How many of us even measure these when we test our products? How many of us have our own stories like the two I described above? I know I do !!