Here is a great July 4th weekend story about innovation and some ideas for using a human factors approach.
About sixty years ago, a guy was grilling in his backyard. It was windy and started to rain. In those days, all grills were the flat open-air type. He thought that a cover would be very helpful so he cut a kettle in half. But it didn’t let in enough air so the fire went out. His neighbor suggested drilling holes in the kettle. That worked fine. And the Weber grill was born.
The Weber grill has come to dominate the market not because of fancy technology, but by identifying and solving user’s pain points – a key starting point for human factors. I am not sure how they do it at Weber, but we can imagine a human factors-style ethnographic study that would be just the ticket.
Consider the example that many of you probably had on the 4th. You invite over people with very different preferences in food. Some like the traditional burgers and hotdogs. And if the grease from one runs into the other, all the better. But other people are a little more picky. Perhaps they stick with fish and hotdog grease would spoil it. Perhaps they are vegetarian, kosher or halal and the hotdog grease would be a serious transgression. Or maybe you are grilling up sliced peaches for dessert (I LOVE these) and hotdog grease would ruin the taste. This doesn’t require a technology solution, just a few grooves and separators and a way to cook different areas of the grill at different temperatures. But it does require understanding the user pain points. You need to understand the need for an absolute separate in the case of the vegan. Or the need for everything to be done at about the same time, so that people don’t feel awkward when eating? What other cases need to be designed in? The design changes are cheap, but only if you know which ones are needed. And HF ethnography is a good way to find out.
Consider the needs of an urbanite who needs to fit the grill on their small balcony. This isn’t about making a scaled down model. You need to understand the user context. What kinds of access points and reach angles will be needed for someone to use the grill on the balcony at all stages. Getting new raw materials from the kitchen delivered on a tray by a second person when you have the tray of raw meat already on the one flat area off the grill. Adding new items to the grill without burning off your arm hair. Is it possible to check on the food progress without coming all the way outside? What cases are needed for access? HF ethnography could find this out.
One pain point that Weber identified was the need to store some items so that you don’t have to go back and forth to the kitchen so many times that you don’t enjoy the grilling experience. Adding a fridge would be too expensive (another pain point for the high end grills) without some of that serious technological innovation we are trying to avoid. But what about a cooler? That would only need some insulation. How long would the food need to stay reasonably cool? HF ethnography could figure that out.