User Experience Design and Human Factors may be new or vague concepts for you. We can help give you some basic insight, here, in the form of a FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions. For starters:

  • User Experience (UX) Design is a disciplined approach used when creating a new product or process, or when refining an existing one. The ultimate goal is to make the product or process easy to use.
  • Human Factors is discipline that understands the capabilities and limitations of human cognition and physiology, which can help in the UX design process to achieve the ease of use goal.
  • In the context of product development, UX design and human factors give way to creating products that  are useful, usable, comfortable, safe, marketable products;
  • Also called other names such as Usability Engineering, Ergonomics, User Interface;
  • Involves designing physical products, software applications and web sites for use by diverse people;
  • Brings user input to development process through various methods including usability testing, focus;

The need for Human Factors can be determined by checking for a faulty process and/or poor products. In particular, you can:

  • Analyze your organizational and commercialization processes for developing products. The purpose is to determine if the process fails to incorporate sufficient consideration of customers and users.
  • Assess usability of existing products. The purpose is to determine if they fail to incorporate Human Factors principles and the extent to which the products result in customer dissatisfaction or additional costs.
Processes for developing products –

The following clues indicate that Human Factors can help you develop more usable products. To uncover these signs, ask questions about your new product development process in general or focus on a key product and ask about how the process unfolded for its development. Not all signs have to be present. Some of the items look like typical market research activities, but don’t be fooled. Market research typically doesn’t focus on usability. Make sure responses to your questions deal with the usability of products, not just general attributes such as customer satisfaction.

  • Characteristics of intended user population have not been clearly defined (e.g., novice vs. experienced vs. both, age, frequency of use, etc).
  • Products are not consciously designed for the range of individual differences between people who will use them (e.g., physical size, strength, left-handed/right-handed, visual capabilities, hearing capability, information processing limitations).
  • You haven’t distinguished between what appeals to decision-makers vs. actual user.
  • You do not have a program to collect customer feedback about the usability of their current products in the market place and communicate it back to new product development teams (e.g., methods such as contextual observation/interviews, regular reports from field personnel, surveys).
  • You don’t involve customers in the usability design of new products (e.g., through user testing, focus groups, mall intercepts, etc.).
  • Product ideation phase is not user-centered – i.e., you don’t acquire user ideas during your formulation of alternative concepts for a product.
  • There is an excessive reliance on instruction manuals or help files to inform users how to use products.
  • Product developers do not approach usability design from a user task perspective – i.e., designing product to help users accomplish the tasks for which they bought the product.
  • The development budget for the user interface of the product is a miniscule part of the overall development budget
  • Developers make excuses about ignoring usability –

“We’ve always done it that way” , “Operators will be well-trained to use the product”, “We can put it in the instruction manual”, “They’ll know how to do it after their first mistake”, “There’s no time in the schedule and it costs too much”

Usability of existing products –

You can get clues about Human Factors need from focusing on a specific product already marketed or about to be launched. The product needs to be evaluated by itself, but also in comparison to other products such as those in its own family and those with which it competes in the marketplace. The following items are high-level clues to a need for Human Factors.

  • Product design violates good Human Factors design principles such as internal consistency, cultural consistency, family consistency, accommodation to user capabilities, accommodation to user preferences, forgiveness, helpfulness, extensibility, and hazard protection.
  • Customers have an unsatisfactory “out-of-box” experience. In other words, after purchasing the product, they are unable to smoothly remove it from its box, set it up, and start using it.
  • You do not benchmark competitive products to see how usability of their product compares with other similar products.
  • You get an inordinate number of customer support calls about how to use the product.
  • Substantial training time is needed to help customers through the initial period of learning how to use the product. Consider both perceived and actual training time. A perception that learning to use a product will be difficult can prevent its purchase. A special or lengthy training period after purchase will be costly to both manufacturer and customer.

Human Factors design can be achieved at reasonable initial cost. The investment can yield benefits in both revenue and cost savings.

Enhanced revenue will result because your products’ usability –

  • Makes customers want to buy your products
  • Increases customer satisfaction when using the products
  • Helps create brand loyalty and repeat business

Cost savings will accrue from –

  • Avoiding late design changes
  • Unnecessary over-design
  • Fewer instructional materials
  • Fewer product support calls
  • Simpler training
  • Less installation time

Assuming you have established a need for Human Factors, getting the right kind of Human Factors help starts with knowing what you want to achieve, i.e., your goal. Does it relate to a process or to specific products? Does it call for design or evaluation activities or both? Does the level of effort require full-time, on-site help for an extended period, ongoing intermittent assistance, or a relatively short, one-time focused thrust? Finally, how quickly do you need the help?

  • Perhaps the easiest way to start is to contact a professional society such as the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, the Usability Professionals Association, the Society for Technical Communication and the Computer-Human Interaction Special Interest Group of the American Computing Machinery (ACM). They can give you names of consulting firms of various types.
  • Contact a nearby or large university and ask for the Department of Psychology, Industrial Engineering, or Computer Science. Human Factors and/or User Interface Design are usually curriculum options in one of these departments. Professors teaching these options may be able to refer you to appropriate resources.
  • If time allows and the need is fairly extensive, write a Request for Proposal (RFP), or a Request for Quote (RFQ). Send them to multiple firms to open up the process to competitive approaches and bids. You may want to engage a firm to write or review your RFP to ensure it has the necessary information and specifications to get responses that are “on the mark” and can be readily compared.
  • Find out whom others use. Contact other firms, especially those whose products appear to have outstanding usability, to inquire about their deployment of Human Factors.
  • When requesting a proposal, whether from a particular firm or through an RFP, ask for alternative approaches that represent different cost estimates. This will help you match the level of effort to your budgetary constraints.

We start by:

  • Thoroughly understanding your need or problem.  We listen to your perception of the problem and may ask a lot of “why” questions to help you clearly formulate the need.
    • If a specific study is involved, we will talk about the actions you will take as a result of the study.
  • We prepare a Statement of Work that reflects our mutual understanding of the objective and scope of the work. We will tailor our services to fit our assessment of what needs to be done.
    • If the scope requires supplemental capabilities, Usability Associates will partner with one of its affiliate firms to provide the expertise or service.
    • If there is not a fit between Usability Associates’ capabilities and your needs, we will help you find another firm that is a fit.

We are amenable to short jobs during any phase of your development cycle or comprehensive assignments that span many phases. We prefer to work collaboratively with you and can mentor your personnel so they can more readily recognize usability problems and apply effective solutions.

In short, we can help your team.  THINK USABILITY AND IMPLEMENT USABILITY