UX (user experience) is a fundamental part of product design that is often overlooked in many industries, from medical devices to home appliances. The focus of product design teams is often to create a functional product. But in reality, a successful product is one that puts the user, and their experience, first. Home appliances are becoming increasingly complex in their functionality with the addition of IoT, so how can we improve UX?
Life is about people. Design is about people
Getting UX right requires empathy. We must be empathetic to people’s needs and wants, understanding them as a person and their goals, if we are going to design a product that solves a problem or improves an existing product. It is essential to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of the user.
Technology affects our everyday lives and influences how we think and feel. This influence is especially true when considering household appliances that are used multiple times a day. Users want, and need, household appliances that effectively meet their needs in everyday life and support their activities of daily living (ADLs). People will actively avoid products and devices that are difficult to use and do not make day-to-day life simpler and easier. Unfortunately, it often feels as though UX is an afterthought.
One of the main challenges in designing household appliances is that they are used by such a wide variety of people. Users include a cross-section of society, from the old to the young, the tech-savvy and the not-so-tech-savvy. In the current economic climate, with living costs rising, consumers are going to make more shrewd decisions and are going to be even more careful about how they spend their hard-earned money.
An astute understanding of UX, and getting UX right, is now more critical than ever.
Desirability and usability
In simple terms, we can consider UX to have two main perspectives, desirability and usability. One is an emotional approach (see work by Don Norman—the “Godfather of UX”), and the other is a more practical, usability approach (see work by Jakob Nielsen). Equally important, equally valuable.
The two go hand in hand… or they should do if UX is done right. Household appliances must be functional and fit for purpose, but as they become part of our homes it is vital that they are also aesthetically pleasing and ergonomically designed so they are a pleasure to use. You want your product to solve problems for the user not create new ones. A successful product is desirable, viable and buildable.
If we think about TV remote controls, how many of us use all the buttons on the remote regularly?
IoT devices like smart TVs are great, but my elderly grandmother just wants to switch the TV on and watch her regular programmes without having to press hundreds of buttons to get there. Finding the tiny buttons on the remote and navigating the various apps can be a minefield for some people.
Jakob Nielsen proposes three main goals of UX design or quality parameters: utility, usability and usefulness. And his usability goals are effective, efficient and satisfying.
Users require household appliances to be all these things as a minimum. So how do you achieve this?
Do your homework. High-quality, holistic user research is key to getting UX right
Getting the research right from the off is essential. It is vital when designing household devices and appliances that a holistic approach is used, and that we think about the “whole-person”.
- What are their goals?
- How will this product make them think and feel?
- How would they feel without it?
Technology can make people think and feel a certain way; it is crucial to consider this in UX and product design. Having a true understanding of the person can be the difference between a product being successful or not. If your product makes people feel good, they will continue using it. They are likely to recommend it to others, increasing your brand awareness and driving sales of your product.
A holistic approach
High-quality, holistic user research is key to getting UX right. Using a holistic approach to UX creates desirable, functional, and innovative solutions to users’ needs/problems. Don Norman calls this “solving the right problem”. That means we can’t fully understand users’ problems until we observe and listen to them.
The key word here is “holistic”. Leaving no stone unturned when conducting user research, we must have the ability to immerse ourselves in the lives of users to fully understand them as a person and their individual needs. It’s about more than just usability, it’s about linking users to products in a way that feels good to them and makes sense for them. Designing technological solutions to genuine problems faced by people every day. Designing and creating products for people where the “people” themselves are not an afterthought.
Have researchers with the ability to immerse themselves in users’ lives and soak up what it means to be that person. Having a true understanding of potential users and what they want is key to creating desirable products.
We all have a favourite pen or a type of keyboard we prefer to type on. We like it because of how it feels, how it writes and interacts with the paper, the way the keys feel, and the noise they make when pressed. What are the things that are going to draw users to your product and make them want to use it?
Product desirability and what makes products appeal to users are crucial in designing household appliances. You can separate desirability from functionality and other factors, like how the appliance is presented aesthetically and how it makes users feel. Is it ergonomically designed?
We must combine product desirability and functionality but not ignore human factors. It is essential to assess the impact human factors have on user experience. Exploring human factors can give valuable insight into how users will interact with a product. How do you want the user to interact with your product? Human factors must be a consideration in the process of getting UX right. Some of these considerations include:
Environmental factors: Where is the product designed to be used? Can it be used outside as well as inside?
Risk factors and mitigations: Are you allowing for human error? Are there any safety concerns if the product is used differently than intended?
Psychological considerations: Will the user interact differently with the product in different scenarios? What is the impact if they use it when stressed or tired? Are there allowances in the design for this?
Cultural aspects: How will the user’s social conditions, background and beliefs affect how they interact with the product?
Good UX design practices can positively impact many aspects of a business, changing how it functions and interacts with its customers. It can positively influence environmental considerations, sustainability and company ethos, as seen at Electrolux.
UX also significantly impacts how the company is portrayed to the outside world and potential customers. UX designers often have a unique perspective and the ability to shake things up in a company for the better. Often, this involves a subtle reminder that the user is at the heart of what is being done and refocusing on a human-centred approach.
Getting UX right can have financial implications too. By really getting to the depths of user needs, UX professionals can help to focus development and design activities, potentially saving time and cutting costs. In the current climate, UX is often an afterthought in the design of household appliances, and many devices are functional but not user-friendly or enjoyable to use. Good UX gives your company a competitive edged.
Implications of poor UX
The dishwasher in our office kitchen is functional, but the LEDs are slightly recessed in the plastic frontage and cannot be seen at eye level. It is only possible to see if the LEDs are switched on by squatting down, so they are at eye level. They are not visible from the head height of most people in the office. So, although it is fit for the intended purpose, it feels as though it has not benefited from strong UX input in the UI design process.
Poor UX can be frustrating and may lead to users not wanting to use your products or recommend them to others. In the case of the office dishwasher, you can’t see straight away if one of your colleagues has switched it on or if it is currently carrying out a dishwashing cycle. People may accidentally open the door to add their cups mid-cycle or press the power button to switch it on but switch it off as it was already powered on.
An issue like this isn’t usually something that would be noticed by a customer when they’re choosing a dishwasher. However, it could be a future consideration if it becomes an annoyance. An existing customer may not buy from that brand again, instead choosing a competitor that listens to their users.
Put people first in your future projects
Don’t create features for the sake of creating features. Ensure products meet a specific user need and don’t overcomplicate things in the interest of technology.
Often what users want is simplicity. I remember the acronym KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) being said to us at school regarding exam preparation. I have now rediscovered KISS as a design principle in UX. It makes sense and is an excellent reminder to keep people at the centre of what you are doing. This is increasingly significant today, with an aging population and people wanting to simplify their lives rather than make them more complicated.
Life is complicated enough.
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