Design Success Starts With Usage Consideration

I was looking at a prototype for a medical drip stand recently. It had excellent ergonomics, and the materials were very contemporary. However, somewhere along the line, the designers lost sight of the end usage of the product. The drip stand had drawers to hold medical supplies. When they were opened, they were hitting the drip tube, making them impractical.

An obvious design flaw. They missed the most important design consideration, which is, “How will the device be used?” This could have been preempted early in the design cycle, by validating the end usage with users.

While usage validation is something every design team should build into the design cycle, it can also help at times to involve an external party partner. This can often bring considerable insights into usage and design considerations, which designers may miss. With design teams now designing products for markets outside their local geographies, the value of partner involvement is higher.

To illustrate this, let me share the real-life case of a European manufacturer who was looking to adapt its elevator range for emerging markets in South Asia. The product customization required it to be redesigned, validated, and tested in the target market to local market needs and for the usage patterns of the new market. To bring in the knowledge of the local market and the related design expertise, the manufacturer partnered with a third-party design house that brought in knowledge of emerging markets and the specialization on usage and design considerations. The outcome of this collaboration was a product that was customized to the new market and launched successfully at a competitive price point.

When assessing a design partner to bring in usage and localization capability, three attributes to look for are:

  1. Understanding of target clients and usage.
  2. Repeatable design frameworks/components that can address the market and deliver speed/cost to market
  3. Optimal connects with an eco-system to take design to manufacturing.

In summary, design after understanding, and regularly validating with, end users. If required, bring in partners who can complement your own capabilities, especially with knowledge of usage considerations and manufacturing/system integration.

13 comments on “Design Success Starts With Usage Consideration

  1. Daniel
    March 28, 2012

    “They missed the most important design consideration, which is, “How will the device be used?” This could have been preempted early in the design cycle, by validating the end usage with users”

    Sanjay, I think verification and validation are two important aspects in all sort of projects. When creating the test cases, I think this is included with most of the SRS and TCD. So if they are not able to foreseen such design flaws, it may be of negligence.

  2. Eldredge
    March 28, 2012

    In additin to recognizing the ways a product will be used in order to avoid design flaws, a knowledgable partner can also identify new design improvements the end user would want that may not have been incorporated yet.

  3. elctrnx_lyf
    March 28, 2012

    For any product it is mandatory to consider the usability scenarios while designing and also evaluate the same at the end of the product design. But I'm wondering what owuld be the customization required for elvators just to be used in south east asia. Isn't elevators are used in same way everywhere in the world?

    March 28, 2012

    I agree with the points made in your article.  In India where the market is very disparate it is vitally important to engage local expertise to tailor the offering to best meet the Indian market.    The same can probably be said for many other areas too.

  5. itguyphil
    March 28, 2012

    This is what happens when the technical overtakes the project objectives. It is easy to forget WHO the end solution will be used for when you are trying to make it 'perfect'. Some important things can easily get sidetracked for performance or optimization purposes. That's just the start.

  6. Houngbo_Hospice
    March 29, 2012

    KISS (Keep It Simple and straitforward) concept can be both applied to electronic components/devices and software design. That is what should be taught in all design classes. I remember my instructors used to put emphasis on “designing together with end users”.

  7. ITempire
    March 29, 2012

    The essential thing to have in a designing/engineering consultant is that the consultant brings knowledge that cannot be arranged by employing permanent employees or it is not feasible to do so. The kind of knowledge can either be something which is design-specific or knowledge which is specific to the location where the end usage is expected (may also include local laws to be complied with while designing, knowledge of which is not available inhouse). 

  8. ITempire
    March 29, 2012

    @ Pocharle

    The manufacturers/engineers need to understand that technical excellence cannot be achieved until the end usage is predicted well and the expectation is incorporated in the technical design phase. Else, the product may be great technically with no one to acknowledge it as the product would be in a form in which it cannot be used. 

  9. prabhakar_deosthali
    March 29, 2012

    The design flaws especially the ones related to the use cases come mainly because of the incorrect requirement specifications.

    Normally the marketing teams arrives at the requirement specifications for a product to be developed . This is based upon either an exiting product from a competitor or a totally new product idea. If marketing clearly specifies the target customers for whom the product is based then such basic mistakes as has been descibed by mr. Sanjay Gupta , will not happen in the deisgn stage.


  10. Taimoor Zubar
    March 29, 2012

    I agree that it may be a good choice to have design consultants albeit just for design review if not for design development because they deal with a large number of customers and have sufficient expertise to guide you.

  11. Taimoor Zubar
    March 29, 2012

    I think an important technique to avoid design flaws is prototyping and pilot-testing. Even if you have a very ellaborate design on paper, it may contain design flaws that would be identified in the prototype and it's use in the actual environment.

  12. bolaji ojo
    March 29, 2012

    When should the designer get a third-party involved? If you wait until design validation it's probably already too late and if it's done very early it could compromise the competitive position.

  13. itguyphil
    March 30, 2012

    Agreed. To add, it wouldn't even make it to the acknowledgement phase that you mention because no one would use it…

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