Archive for November, 2009

Oops, Toyota in hot water over use of Flickr photos

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

 In light of our recent module on legal, ethical and policy issues, I was interested to read about Toyota’s problems stemming from its use of Flickr photos in an ad campaign.

I love this quote from the VP at Creative Commons:

“Fortunately or unfortunately the internet isn’t a magic box of free content,” said Mike Linksvayer, VP at Creative Commons. A good thing to keep in mind.

The story appears in Advertising Age.

It’s all about me, the user

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009
Designer Jerome Caruso discovered his passion for design at age 12, creating car models out of clay.

Designer Jerome Caruso discovered his passion for design at age 12, creating car models out of clay.

Jerome Caruso is my hero. He solved my painful back problem. He made me more productive at work. And he applied user-centered design (UCD) to do it.

Caruso is the designer of the Celle Chair by HermanMiller, the international furniture company. Before my employer rolled in this beauty, my desk was an ergonomic disaster. Now I can sit comfortably for hours without feeling my lumbar muscles knot up like a creaky oak tree.

Why UCD will prevail

If Caruso had taken one of the other approaches to interactive design outlined by author Dan Saffer in “Designing for Interaction,” I don’t think my chair would be as good. As long as products are to be used by people, I think UCD is the most effective and most logical approach. After all, we all want it to be “about us.”

For two reasons, I believe UCD will gain more followers in the years ahead:

  • In this uncertain economy, corporations are examining every product-design dollar. They want to invest their precious funds on products that they know are designed with the end user in mind. These are the products that consumers want and will buy. Even though the economy appears to be improving, I think companies will be less willing to take risks with the designs they take to market for some years to come.
  • Interactive technology is becoming a bigger part of our lives. Twenty years ago, we had far fewer opportunities to make connections with other people through products than we do today, due to advances in digital technology. As a result, consumers are not as impressed by technology as they once were. They’ve come to expect amazing applications. They’re more concerned that it does what it’s supposed to do, and is easy to use.

HermanMiller Walks the Talk

Now my chair is not exactly high-tech. But I still think it broadly meets Saffer’s definition of an interactive design because it facilitates interaction between humans. Because of its patented Cellular Suspension system, the chair is lightweight and mobile, which allows me to easily wheel over to the next desk to collaborate with co-workers. And the passive “PostureFit,” for example, supports the way my pelvis tilts naturally forward, so that my spine stays properly aligned, whether I’m leaning back or forward. This keeps me comfortable and attentive as I engage in long, tedious conference calls.

The oh-so-usable Celle Chair allows the sitter's body, rather than the chair's structure, to dictate pressure distribution.

The oh-so-usable Celle Chair allows the sitter's body, rather than the chair's structure, to dictate pressure distribution.

In any event, HermanMiller clearly understands the importance of designing for the user. For example, the company displays on its website the article, “Supporting the Biomechanics of Movement,” which states:

“A work chair’s movement should mirror the user’s movement. Tilt is to a chair what suspension is to a car. A work chair can offer a great seat and back design, but without a great tilt, the work chair will not move with and respond to the user’s movements and postures.”

UCD Saves Money

No matter what kind of product you sell, incorporating UCD makes good business sense. Let’s put it in simple dollars and cents. For every dollar spent to resolve a problem during product design, $10 would be spent on the same problem during development, according to Robert Pressman, author of “Software Engineering: A Practitioner’s Approach.”

If the problem had to be solved after the product’s release, that would cost another $100, he says.

IBM is a fan

IBM, a major proponent of UCD, says the financial lesson is clear: “It is far less expensive to prevent a problem occurring in the first place than to fix it later. One of the best ways to prevent problems from occurring, and to protect your development investment at the same time, is to keep your users and customers involved through the entire development cycle.”

IBM is so engaged in UCD that they have a special section of their website devoted to the topic. Here is why they believe this design approach works: “By making it a priority you not only satisfy your customer, you streamline the operation by improving product design and development; you save costs by reducing development time, training, and maintenance expenses; and you succeed in getting your product – a better product – to the market sooner.”

Catching up with Your User

Other high-tech companies had better get on the bandwagon of UCD because the marketplace has changed. Sophisticated gadgets have become a way of life, but consumers just want something that’s easy to use. As Donald A. Norman wrote in his book, “The Invisible Computer,” way back in 1998:

“The customers have already made the transition to consumer products: they want convenience, they want simplicity. The high-technology companies, however, have not crossed over the chasm: they are still mired in technology-driven product development, feature-driven marketing.”

Poor Usability Affects Sales

Research also shows that when consumers are trying a new technology, poor usability is a killer. Professors Stacy L. Wood, of the University of South Carolina, and C. Page Moreau, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, warn of “innovation discontinuance” – when consumers reject a new product after purchase or trial because it was too difficult to learn the features:

“While consumers may desire the functionality of a particular new product feature—say, the ability to hot-sync one’s mobile phone’s calendar feature to a desk-top computer’s calendar program—learning how to use such a feature may take some learning effort. How do consumers react to the learning curve? The answer often is, “not well.”

The company’s marketing and sales team might be tempted to mask this weakness with claims that a product is easy to use, say Wood and Moreau. After all, this can make consumers more likely to at least try the product. But that could be disastrous:

“…This research shows that setting unreasonable expectations for ease of use can cause a backlash of negative learning emotions that will impact the consumer’s evaluation of the new product.”

And no sales team wants to deal with a negative backlash of customer emotion.

The Best Use of Scarce Resources

Companies are running lean and mean these days. The resources for designing and launching new products are more limited than ever. If these companies are smart, they’ll make the most of their budget and staff by adopting the approach of UCD. As a result, they’ll end up with products that reach the market faster, and do what consumers expect them to do. In the high-tech arena, where consumers see now technology as part of everyday life, the expectations for a satisfying product experience are the highest of all.