Tag Archive: design for usability

…pretty please make it this one!!!

So I’m hijacking my own blog a little bit because I thought I’d have some fun:

A couple of days ago, I discovered Quirky.com.

Basically, you can submit an idea to Quriky, with a 140 character tagline and a bunch of pictures/drawings, and, if you get enough votes within 30 days and they like your idea, they’ll actually produce it (and you can get some royalties)!



Well, it sounded like fun, so I submitted my Flexible Spatula!

So, here’s my CALL TO ACTION: Please go to this link: http://www.quirky.com/ideations/275496 , and vote for my idea!!!

Now, let’s be clear about somethings before you all think I’m delusional:

I know that I will not get rich off of this idea. I also know that, if this idea is chosen for production, Quirky will get a little richer off of it…and that’s all fine to me.

I love the idea of their site because it brings to market a bunch of products that would otherwise not see the light of day: I didn’t mind devoting the ~40 minutes to draw my design or the ~20 minutes to submit it to Quirky, but I would mind the huge monetary investment into developing materials, creating mold plates, and establishing a good working relationship with China!

Also, they do well playing on the fact that most people are good initiators (they can come up with a plethora of great ideas), but most are awful ‘finishers’ (as this is the part of the job that takes MUCH more work).

On top of all of that, I could, and may, also do a separate post on their website design because it really is top notch (it’s easy to use and it even has a countdown clock for your 30 days that gets as detailed as the seconds until your idea is closed for voting to add to the sense of urgency)!

So, are you feeling inventive? Submit something to Quirky!!!

Lost in translation…

I own a couple of these style of cups.

They’re great…in concept, but something got lost between concept and design.

First of all, mine cannot be microwaved, or put in the dishwasher. You aren’t even supposed to put hot beverages in it. Therefore, this cup is an inconvenience.

Secondly, the straw is hard, rigid plastic. I almost chipped a tooth on it the first time I drank out of it, and, if you were to trip or fall while taking a sip, I’m fairly confident that you would inadvertently administer your own tracheotomy.

Thirdly, again with the straw, how the heck are you supposed to clean the inside of it? You’d almost have to buy a set of pipe cleaners to get in there, since you can’t drop it in the dishwasher.

Sometimes I wonder how products like this made it to the market and are being accepted so widely.

That’ll buff out…

Often times, it is very important to momentarily “forget” existing technology in order to create something new (so that we do not carry forward any of the existing inefficiencies from the existing tools/products and we approach problems from a fresh perspective). This is an amazing skill (one that I really wish I was gifted with), but it must be used with a pinch of caution…

Today’s example, the staple gun:

I have many awful childhood memories of trying to use this horrid contraption when helping my dad work on our basement. It surely wasn’t built for children’s hands (or anyone else’s hands, for that matter).

When you push on the bottom of the lever (to get the most leverage), the top of the gun (from which the staple exists) may shift in position or get tilted, and the staple may miss its mark.

If only there were some way to overcome this issue and make a staple gun more ergonomic…but wait, there is!

Enter this little bad boy:

The way that this staple gun is designed, you get the most leverage where you have the most power (between your thumb and first finger), and the staple exits right where the most pressure is being applied (at the top of the gun [the bottom left of the picture]).

This design really is much better from an ergonomic/design perspective, but there is one major issue: People who are used to the non-ergonomic model are prone to holding the ergonomic model upside down and shooting a staple into their hands!

I know several folks who have had this happen to them. Since the ergonomic model is held ‘upside-down’ (with ‘upside-down’ only being defined by the pre-existing, non-ergonomic model), some folks, unsuccessfully, try to hold it ‘right-side up’.

It is for this reason that we must continue to evaluate our designs with regard to previously established perceptions to ensure that we do not defy or overwrite any assumptions that could lead to user injury (and putting a million warning labels on the product is not going to solve the issue).

Awwww Rats.

Holy Cow! It’s going to come alive and try take over the world!!!

Actually, it’s  just the R.A.T. 7 gaming mouse, but I think Mad Catz has done a TON of things correctly with the design and marketing of this mouse, and their work is worthy of a quick case study.

As a side note, anyone who knows me knows that I’m addicted to computer peripherals, and that my love for mice is almost unparalleled (I’m currently rocking this baby and loving it).

So, let’s dive right in!

  • The features. This goes without saying, so I’m not going to dwell on it.
  • The look. Does the mouse need to look like it does in order to perform its function? There are some requirements (It needs to be in a shape that works well with a hand, with buttons somewhat located near where your fingers will end up), but nothing says it has to look like a cyborg hunter. The fact of the matter is that this mouse is made for gamers, so it needs to look like something that would appear in the next episode of Star Wars. Mission accomplished.
  • The website. CHECK IT OUT HERE!!! Again, you’re marketing to gamers who are intimately familiar with the webernetz, so you cannot skimp on the website! Once again, Mad Catz delivers. They have links to their products, blog, downloads, support, and contact at the top (which is somewhat expected, but the blog is a nice touch); they have a header that scrolls through pictures, they have an interactive 360 view of the mouse also in the header, they have their awards displayed, they have nice, big pictures, they have a sub heading with features, tech specs, a photo gallery and a “buy now” button (NICE!). Everything is clear, concise, bulleted, and perfectly aimed at the target audience.
  • The video. The piece de resistance. Watch it here. How many mice do you know with their own awesome video?!? Again, perfectly aimed at the target market, and well produced. This video was an excellent touch (it almost makes me hit the ‘buy it now’ button every time…)

What do you think of Mad Catz’s job with the RAT7 Gaming Mouse? What could they have done better?

I hate Saran Wrap.

I hate it because I’m one of those folks who just can’t seem to tear a piece from the roll without it sticking to itself. I fuss and bother, and then I usually end up balling it up, throwing it away, grabbing a new sheet, and starting this maddening process all over again (Heck, my phone even autocorrected “Saran Wrap” into “Satan Wrap”…so I guess it’s pretty obvious how HTC feels about Saran Wrap).

How, with all of our modern-day inventions (heat-seeking missiles, robotic surgery, etc) have we not solved the issue of the ‘impossible-to-work-with’ Saran Wrap?

The issue, of course, is the tear. All is fine and dandy until we attempt to use the integrated blade on the box and tear the sheet – that’s when the pandemonium starts.

This has caused many folks to attack the blade. There are contraptions out there on which you can pull a sheet of Saran Wrap and then cut it with a sliding blade, or some folks just stretch the Saran Wrap flat on the counter, and then, while the sheet is supported, cut it with the box blade. The problem with both of these solutions is that they require considerable space (and, if your counter is dirty, the wrap will pick all of that up like a Saran Wrap magnet).

Why do we not yet have Saran Wrap that’s wrapped along with a backing paper? This way, when you pull the roll and cut it, it doesn’t stick to itself (because it’s already on the backing paper). Simply peel and stick the cut sheet to whatever you’re trying to seal.

Will it cost more than traditional Saran Wrap? Yes.

Will it produce more waste? Yes.

Would I buy it if it stops my Saran Wrap frustration? Heck yes.

…Hey, not every solution is 100% pretty.

With You

I felt that it was time for a glowing product design review, so here we go!

I find odd things to obsess over – computer peripherals, bass guitars, watches, etc. Perhaps one of my biggest obsessions about a year ago was to find the perfect travel coffee thermos.

I was about to give up the search when, on one dark morning, I spilled my disposable cup full of coffee onto my co-worker’s desk…all over a couple of week’s worth of paperwork. I felt terrible. That being said, I’ve invested hours and hours into this search, and I’ve been pleased with the outcome, so I’m going to pass my findings on to you:

(drum roll please…)

The winner is: the Contigo Coffee Mug!!! (By the way, if you’re looking for a runner up, you’re out of luck. I’m only after the best!!!)

Here are the design features that I really appreciate:

  • It fits in a cup holder. It seems so obvious, but I own several water bottles and thermal mugs that do not…
  • It is dishwasher safe – the stainless version is, anyway. Again, it should be obvious, but many are not.
  • It opens when you perform your natural drinking action. The drinking hole and vent both open when you push the nice, big button, and the beautiful thing is that the button is located where your hand would be anyway. No extraneous motion required, and the button is very easy to press.
  • It closes the instant you let go. If you drop this mug while you’re trying to take a drink (thus releasing the button), it will seal right up. This also helps to keep your beverage warmer longer (since you don’t leave the vent open for any longer than necessary).
  • The button cannot be accidentally actuated. The contour of the mug is ergonomic, but it also prevents the button from being pressed when the mug is on its side. This greatly reduces accidental spills.

The drawbacks? Very minor:

  • This baby makes a heck of a seal! If you put in very hot liquid, and let the mug sit for a little bit, the first time you hit the button the vent can spray a little. It’s not enough to stain or spray your clothes, but it is enough to give you a little bit of a startle if you’re not expecting it.
  • As I mentioned, the sealing feature is very nice since it’s operated by a momentary button press…so how the heck do you clean it? If you put it in the dishwasher, it will not clean the hole that you drink out of (because this stays sealed). The hole is also too small for that tiny brush that fits in the end of most bottle brushes. Again, pretty minor, but kind of gross if you can see some stale coffee on the internal part of the seal.

Have you used the Contigo Mug before? How was your experience? What mug do you use on a daily basis? How do you like it?

I really hope this has helps you, and I hope that, if you’re in the market for a new travel mug, you’ll give Contigo a try!

Do Not Overfill!!!

 I understand that some products have reservoirs that should not be overfilled, but I don’t understand why some designers make it so hard to not overfill them!!!

The picture to the left is for the rinse aid reservoir from my dishwasher. It has the max fill line printed on the stem, which is attached to the back of this cap. What this means is that you have to slowly pour in the rinse aid (guessing at how close you are to the max fill line), then periodically insert the cap, then remove the  cap and look for residue indicating the fill level on the stem, and then wipe the residue off of the stem, and repeat. What nonsense.

A good reservoir would have a fill line on the reservoir itself, so, as you’re pouring, you can tell how full the container is and how close you are to the max fill line in ‘real-time’.

Now, some drastic instances may require the “line on stem” method (I’m thinking specifically of filling the oil in your car), but, I also believe that there can be more creative  solutions used to overcome this inconvenience (I’m thinking of a secondary reservoir with a fill line that you could fill and then empty into the main reservoir…think ‘ACT Mouthwash’, but backwards…).

This really vexes me. What product design features bother you the most?

Trip Hazard!

Ok, so this post has been brewing for some time…

If you recall, last month my wife had an incident with a bouncy seat that sent us to the ER in the middle of the night. Well, since that incident, in conversation with a lot of friends and co-workers, I have found that tripping over the bouncy seat is not an uncommon occurrence in their homes either!

In all seriousness, I trip over at least one of our two bouncy seats at least once per day.

Now that I know that it is a common issue, it’s not hard to see why. Look at the picture to the left; specifically, look at the right leg of the bouncy seat. That leg seems to disappear right into the floor tiles, doesn’t it?

Now, you may be thinking,  ‘What are the odds of that leg being so blended into the surface on which the chair is sitting?’

My answer to you would be: VERY OFTEN!!! That brushed metal blends quite nicely with  the rest of the grey in my peripheral vision! I’ve also seen similar bouncy chairs with powder blue legs which are no better than the grey.

So, here’s my question: If we’ve invested so much time and energy to conform to the the many standards for child safety, why have we neglected to account for the safety of the people who may be  walking near the seat and carrying the child?

Why aren’t the legs neon orange (or some other neon color)? That color would actually work well with the color scheme of the bouncy seat that I have pictured! Kids love neon colors, and neon colors stick out much better than the dull brushed grey.

We may not be able to entirely fix the problem, but why aren’t we doing everything we can to reduce the risk of someone tripping over these things!?!

Now, I love my HTC Aria…

It has great battery life, it takes a drop like a champion, it’s small and light weight, and it can actually make a phone call (Wahoo!), but, like most things on this earth, it has one slight flaw…

That dang camera!!!

As you can see in the lower left, the camera is next to the speaker, in the top, center on the back of the phone.

When I bought the phone, I was pleased to see that the camera lens was sunk into the phone (so it would not get scratched easily). What I failed to think about then (but think about every single day now), is about how that “camera hole” is a dust, dirt, and lint trap!

Yes, this problem could be (mostly) alleviated if I didn’t put the phone in my pocket, but I would consider it normal use for someone to carry a phone in their pocket nowadays. I would have considered this use case in my design process.

So, now all of my pictures look fuzzy, blurry, and washed out. Some days I’m able to get a Q-tip in there and kind of push the lint around (so it’s mostly out of the way of the lens), and, when I’m feeling  really adventurous, I take a lens cleaning wipe and smash it into the camera hole, which can clean it out pretty well (temporarily, anyway).

I also have a few friends with iPhones, and they complain about the lens getting scratched all of the time.

It basically comes down to this: if we’re going to keep putting cameras on phones, we’ve got to find a better way to do it.

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’!