Design Focus Needs to Change to Truly “Delight” Users
I have recently been reading a very interesting book, “The Power of Moments” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. It got me thinking about how products and technology is brought to market and how in many cases designers miss the mark. I believe this thinking has applications for even an industrial manufacturer like AS-Schneider.
It is easy for designers and technologists to get overly wrapped up in their product or technology. The goal can easily shift to how to make the end product faster, sleeker and more powerful without regard for the actual user / customer. The user of a product or technology focuses on their experience with little regard for the background technology.
It is also important to keep in mind that the “user” is not always the “buyer” or customer. In the consumer space this role is generally the same person but in the industrial space rarely does the buyer actually use the product. At AS-Schneider we mainly sell to oil and gas companies. The purchasing department (buyer) is buying on behalf of the operation and maintenance departments (user). Ultimately the user experience will dictate the success of your product or technology as the users will give strong feedback to the buyers if the product is not up to standard.
So where do designs get off track? Generally the design team is operating off a specification that they translate into “product / technology” speak. In most cases the customer experience will not be defined in “human” terms but rather in the language of technical performance. This puts the focus on the product and not the people using it. There can also be a technical desire on the part of the designers to utilize what is new and cool versus what might be most practical. Many design projects see “feature creep” where more bells and whistles are added that might not be needed.
Lack of focus on the user experience creates functional but not practical products. A great example of this was illustrated in the book “The Power of Moments.” Doug Dietz, an industrial designer at GE, related the story of the introduction of a new MRI machine. The machine met all the critical technical specifications but looked like, well a machine. It was also located in a room with scary looking signs on the wall and caution tape on the floor. When he witnessed his first user (patient) coming to use his “design baby,” he could clearly see he had widely missed the mark.
As Doug discussed in a 2012 TED Talk, “when he saw the couple and their young daughter coming down the hallway the girl was crying. As they got closer to the room, the father leaned down to the girl and said, ‘We have talked about this. You can be brave.’ As soon as the girl entered the room, she froze, terrified. And in that moment, Dietz could see the way the room looked through her eyes.”
The design of the MRI machine and the room was all wrong for a child that would have to lay still for 30 minutes for the procedure to be completed. This user insight got Doug thinking that there had to be other ways of designing the MRI machines and the experience to make the procedure more appealing to his young users.
The fear of the machine and the experience had real consequences as 80% of the children undergoing MRIs had to be sedated, adding new health risk. By working with designers from a children’s museum and “design thinking” experts from Stanford, GE was able to redesign the “experience” so the children would view the procedure as an adventure. Soon there were Jungle Adventure MRI experiences as well as Pirate Ship MRI experiences and the results were stunning. Sedation dropped from 80% to 27% on the longer MRI procedures and down to as low as 3% for the shorter scans. And the kids did not freeze and in some cases enjoyed their adventure. Here you can see some pictures of the Jungle Adventure MRI machine and other themes.
This user based design philosophy can be applied to any industry. Consumer focused companies have the strongest track record in this area as companies like Apple have put user experience and product esthetics on top of their design list. But industrial companies can and should take a similar approach as a strong user experience can be a competitive advantage. Even if the user is not making the buying decision you will find they have a very strong influence. A poor user experience even at a low price will not win repeat business. Conversely, a positive user experience can gain brand loyalty and a premium on price. At AS-Schneider we always make the effort to see how our products are being used.
Creating a Powerful Moment
Take our Schneider Direct Mount System as an example. We have mainly based the design on the user experience. We reduced the operating torque, the number of cycles needed to close and open the valve and equipped the valve with ergonomic handles. All this increases the product costs, but provides a unique experience to the user/operator. We got to know that many operators suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. Hence, making the operation of the valve much smoother is definitely taking pressure of the operators wrist – this is a powerful moment.
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