by Orlando Soto (Engineering Manager), Omar Bermudez (Senior Industrial Designer), and Sarah Faulkner (Director of Marketing)
Human factors engineering is a critical – and in some industries, mandated – part of the product development process. The data generated from human factors activities can help you to create products that are useful and can stand up to its competition.
Here are three practical tips to help you keep the core principles of human factors engineering in mind as you design and build.
Tip #1: Start early – human factors data should inform your product’s design
Defined as the science of the interaction between humans and systems, human factors engineering can apply to everything from a button’s size to the room that the product will be in.
It may seem logical to hold off on collecting human factors data until you are ready to put a fully-formed product in front of its intended users. But the data collected from human factors activities are essential and should be used to inform your product’s design from the very start of the development process.
Even without a fully-formed product, there are plenty of tools you can leverage to extract information from users. For example, you can write a survey, develop paper exercises or even create pared-down mock-ups of your design to assess how users interact with early concepts. The idea in these early stages is to inform the design rather than confirm the design.
The key is to gather valuable data points early – even in Phase Zero of the product development process – instead of waiting until you have a finalized design.
Tip #2: Pay attention to how you’ve developed usability specifications
Here’s a common request that Goddard gets from our clients: “This product needs to be easy to use.”
Unfortunately, that statement on its own doesn’t mean anything. We have to turn that into something quantifiable: how do the end-users define “easy”?
If you don’t do this exercise of defining what “ease of use” means for your target audience, you may end up developing usability specifications that are in contrast to your design specifications.
Consider a can opener: let’s say you establish specifications that the device must be easy to use and low cost. While a manual can opener is low cost, it is more difficult to use. An electric can opener, although easier to use, is more expensive. If your team decided to go with the manual can opener for the sake of cost, a user may declare “this does not feel easy to me” at a product demonstration. And you may find out late in the game that what is meant by “easy to use” is mutually incompatible with your other requirements.
Tip #3: Beware poorly vetted assumptions
As product developers, we regularly caution our clients to keep this at the front of their minds during the design process: you are not your user. Don’t assume anything about what the user wants, who the user is or how the user will interact with your system. Poorly vetted assumptions will ultimately lead to a product that does not serve its intended audience – and therefore does not fulfill its intended purpose in the marketplace.
Instead, make sure you conduct testing with a cohort that adequately represents your user base’s demographics. And importantly, recruit a sufficient number of users to yield statistically meaningful results. It’s not always achievable, but this is what you should strive for when crafting user tests.
User testing is essential because it will help you mitigate poorly vetted assumptions. And the ability to maintain neutrality throughout the testing cycle is a skill worth developing. It’s easy to lead people into giving you the information that you want to hear. There’s a right and wrong way to craft questions so that data is removed from any bias.
Ultimately, good user testing will save you time and money. There are some markets – like the medical device industry – where this kind of work is regulated. Conducting effective and thorough user testing will help to ensure that your medical device meets the FDA’s standards. In markets where user testing and other human factors work is not mandated, putting off user testing can mean that you won’t really know how users will respond to your product until it’s too late – leaving open the potential for bad reviews or even product recalls.
Human factors engineering, as important and crucial as it is to the product development process, is not as hard as you may think. If you’re daunted by the task of taking on all of this work to better understand your product’s user, call us – our experienced HFE staff are here to help ensure that your product is useful and can stand up to its competition.
Understanding how to navigate the human factors engineering process is essential in the medical device field since it is mandated by the FDA. But the learnings from the HFE process can apply to any industry and ultimately, you’ll end up with a better product.
Goddard is a full-service engineering and industrial design firm specializing in the development of medical devices, life sciences technology and industrial robotics.
Drawing from the collective expertise of its experienced designers and engineers, Goddard’s mission is to deliver outstanding solutions that positive impact lives. To learn more, visit www.goddardtech.com.
Sponsored content by Goddard