Tag Archive: 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!!!

The Circles of Marketing

Another awesome reminder form Seth Godin that there is more to Marketing than advertising!

There is so much more depth, art, and skill required, which is honestly why I love it so much.

It is certainly a great though-provoking read!


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).

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!

Parking on the Grass

I firmly believe that people are naturally innovative – especially when they’ve been doing something for a long time (long enough to become habitual).

For example, why do manufacturing engineers insist that they can dictate how to properly assemble a device better than the folks who assemble said device day-in and day-out? Sure, the engineers have a better grasp on the technical aspects (e.g. which torque values are optimal), but they lack much of the common sense aspects (You can’t put this part on there yet, because this part gets in the way, etc…).

…by the way, I was once in this role, so I can vouch for the validity of the previous statements.

In the same sense, it seems like we waste an awful lot of  time yelling at folks for doing things differently, but we seldom question the reason for them doing something in the first place.

“Stop parking on the grass!!!”

Well…why are they parking on the grass in the first place? Are there too few parking spaces left in the lot? Or, perhaps, did folks just find a better place to park? Would we benefit from making that section of grass into a legitimate paved parking spot instead of just yelling?

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?

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!

Quick Thought #2

Why did they mount this faucet so far away from the edge of the sink (so you have to bang your hands up against the sink to wash them)?

And, if you’re going to tell me that it’s a pre-drilled counter, then why did they choose those faucets?

…but, most of all, why, when they put the two together, did they not fix it?

It”s the little things that bug me the most…

(@ Carrabba’s on Westnedge Ave. in Portage, Michigan)

Cottage Inn Catastrophe

Yesterday, I was looking for the hours for my local Cottage Inn Pizza, so I went to the website (www.ordercottageinn.com), and clicked on the “Contact” link (one of only  5 links at the top of the page):

…which led me to this page:

Now, clicking the “Contact” tab on this page sends you to the correct contact page, but this is a good example in how simple proofreading/testing should not be undervalued!

Obviously, websites are of utmost importance (and have been for the past several years), but, while they may appear to be so commonplace and “dime-a-dozen” (there are pages and pages of individual Cottage Inn websites that come up on a simple Google search), we need to ensure that each one is an example of the quality of the company for which it represents.

Even in this instance, the “Cottage Inn” site which I originally visited was not main corporate site, but its bad link to the corporate site reflects negatively on the entire company (especially since the bad link was from one of the five main options at the top of the page)!

Proof read your websites and test the links, and then have a friend proofread and test out your links, and then have an enemy proofread and test your links! Try to do what your customer will do (which may not always be what you think that they’ll do), and make sure you can do it without any errors!

…and, lastly, when you do have to have your website throw an error, make it fun like this one!