Tag Archive: common sense


At the company I work for, not unlike many other companies nowadays, they are really cracking down on people printing in color.

We’ve had several rounds of e-mails from executives (…or the executive’s secretaries, anyway), fancy graphs (in color) of how much more it is costing the company  every time we print in color, and some people have put fancy tag lines on their e-mail signatures, but people continue to print in color.

The solution is NOT that we need more e-mails and threats from the folks who make much more money than us, the solution is actually quite simple: Change the default setting!

That’s right, this printer is currently set to print in color by default. This means, any time anyone hits print, they print in color. To not print in color, they have to go into the settings and change them such that they will only print in black & white. While this simple task does not take much time (just a couple of mouse clicks), it does take effort, and people are, by nature, resistant to expending any additional effort beyond the base that is required to complete their intended task.

Now, what can this failure teach us about how to reach success? Make the “default” lead to your desired outcome! 

Another awesome example of this involves organ donations. In full text, it can be found here. Summarized, this study goes as follows:

When you renew your driver’s license, you have a chance to enroll in an organ donation program. In countries like Germany and the U.S., you have to check a box if you want to opt in. Roughly 14 percent of people do. But behavioral scientists have discovered that how you set the defaults is really important. So in other countries, like Poland or France, you have to check a box if you want to opt out. In these countries, more than 90 percent of people participate. This is a gigantic behavior difference cued by one tiny and costless change in procedure.

These examples should be more than enough evidence to demonstrate that you need to design your website, booth, product, marketing plan, etc such that, when a customer acts in the manner of least resistance, they are accomplishing your desired purpose. If you require any extra effort, you are losing sales and you are losing customers!

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Set them up to fail!!!

That’s right, when testing your product for usability/understand-ability, setting your test subjects up for failure and having them realize this is a much better indicator that your product is easily usable/understandable than giving them options and having them select the correct one.

For example, if your company made, let’s say, Microwave Steam Sterilizers for Baby Bottles, don’t just give your testers the instructions and a choice between a beaker with 6oz, one with 7oz, and one with 8oz of water and have them select the correct one. This draws attention to the feature that you’re testing and makes your testers pay special attention to picking the right volume of water. Now, not giving them any amount of water will also cause them to look up the correct amount of water and, in my opinion, is not really a thorough enough test of usability (as the user may have lost the instruction book and have no way to know which amount of water to add).

The best test, in this scenario, would be to give the user 6oz of water and have them either just dump it into the sterilizer without thinking (failure), or tell you that they don’t have enough water to continue (which would be a pass, as 7oz is what is required). It also goes against human nature to ‘make waves’ by disrupting the test to tell you that they don’t have enough, so the user would have to feel pretty strongly that something isn’t correct!

If the test was run in this manner, you would quickly discover that your product needs to incorporate a fill line, or something of that nature, to indicate to the user at the point of action if their amount of water is correct or incorrect.

Also, two other rules:

  • Common Sense Rule #1: Don’t use people that know the product (or know you well) for your usability/understand-ability testing!
  • Common Sense Rule #2: Don’t be afraid of “failures” during usability testing, as these “failures” (and the appropriate reactions to them) end up taking your product from ‘confusing and unusable’ to ‘easy and invaluable’!

Ford Cup Holders – Fail

Dear Ford Motor Company:

Please do not put features above the cup holders.It means that you are now limiting the width and height of the objects which I can place in the cup holders, and, for all intensive purposes, it makes them worthless to me:

The only cup holder placement that I’ve seen that makes less sense, is the one on the Pontiac Firebird…

Hint: If you shift, your elbow goes through your beverage!

“Form follows function” needs to be present at every stage of concept/design. It may look nice, but, if it’s useless…it’s useless.