You have read four chapters of The Design of Everyday Things, which discuss how people have a hard time using seemingly simple devices and why that is, in particular how people understand the world and the devices they use. You have even seen a student presentation on how one element of design (righthandedness versus lefthandedness) can affect the usability of even the simplest devices.
You may have begun to ask yourself, "Why don't we fix this problem by...."
Work in teams of three or four people based on the number in the upper right hand corner of this page.
Maybe users could help designers do a better job? If so, how and when?
A common approach to involving users is to do usability testing after a product has been designed and protoyped. A newer approach is to have users participate in the process of defining and designing the product in the first place. This is called participatory design.
Keep in mind that you can apply these questions to areas that you know about from your studies or from work experience.
Consider two kinds of user: users for a general product, and users within the same company you work for.
Issues to consider for Task 1:
When you select a pool of testers or "participant designers", you don't want arbitrary diversity, but rather diversity that is representative of your target audience of users.
Involving people with skills in survey or research design can make selecting a user population much more effective. Often, product designers don't have experience or knowledge for doing that.
When selecting a set of users from within a narrow audience, such as a business unit, competitive selection often increases the participants' sense of importance, sense of ownership in the product, and their ability to serve as communicators to the audience at large.
You may want different kinds of people for participatory design than you want for usability testing. For usability testing, any representative member of the target population will do. For participatory design, you probably need a smaller set of people, maybe just one, and so the chosen have to be more well-rounded. In particular, participant-designers have to be able to introspect, communicate their thoughts, generalize outside their own experience, ...
Involving users early allows the designer to correct costly mistakes before mass-producing and marketing a product. When working with narrower audiences, participatory design can help to maximize user buy-in by letting users affect the design of the product.
Why not do it then?? Participatory design is slower and more expensive up-front. If you work with a small pool, then you risk over-designing for those users involved. When you don't take a user's suggestion, s/he can become irritated, hurting buy-in later. The corporate environment often isn't amenable to this sort of design, or even to empirical observation of users. Oftentimes, organizational politics dominate technical issues in these cases.
All this means that implementing participatory design requires astute managers with strong technical skills...
(By the way, participatory design is a "newer approach" only in the context of the last century or so, when society began to codify the knowledge required of designers and architects, creating a gulf between the users and the makers of products...)
The main topics in question that came up in class today concerning these two approaches included what type of user should provide advice to the designers; the benefits and risks of having a user design a product and which approach should be used. Would you pick different kinds of people for one approach or the other? The groups should be diverse, but if one group helped to design the product, then theyy should not be involved in the usability testing because they are already familiar with the product.
The discussion also led to the potential problems of favoritism, social influences and politics. If you were using the participatory design approach, which user's opinion would you consider the most, the person with the best ideas or the one who controls your salary? It seemed this approach had good benefits because you could potentially save money and prevent errors, but there are also a lot of risks to consider.
In our small group we began by trying to come up with a variety of different groups of people that might need to be considered when reviewing a product for the production line. We came up with right-handed/ left-handed, younger/ older, experienced/ inexperienced, disabled/non-disabled. While all these groups of users is important to think about I feel one great comment today from our discussion was the fact that we need to most importantly be considering who is actually going to be using the product. The example was given: If a toy were being designed you would research children's feedback, not a grandparents.
Another great point that we discussed in class was how crucial it is for the designer to have great knowledge about the product before they will be able to design it to the best of its ability.
Having input from people who are not on the design team of a product is so important, so that there will not be any biased opinions formed. However there can also be some draw backs from having too many outside opinions. These users could begin to put pressure on the designers to compromise the plans of the design that they at one time felt confident about.
I think that involving the user in the creative design process of a product is an important thing to do. It allows and encourages designers to truly solve problems that users face when trying to easily use a product. And I also feel that the more "user-friendly" a product is the more excited that I am to buy and use it.