Posted by: bbannan | March 2, 2009

Product design-Web design and usability – Ben

I came across this blog from a couple “usability and technology analysts” from Minneapolis the other day.  Although they have many different postings on a variety of topics, I naturally gravitated towards the postings grouped as  “instructional design.”  I found it particularly interesting that each of the topics in these posts are unlike much of what we have studied and designed ourselves in our EDIT courses. As you can see, they focus on things ranging from shampoo labels to lawn mowers.

Do you think that these types of products deserve the same type of usability and design testing as your group’s project for this course? If not, do they deserve any at all?

How would your user research approaches differ between a website (like many of us are designing this semester) and common consumer products like those listed in the blog? Are there any other common products out there that you think could use an instructional designers touch?



  1. I suppose in the business world the focus is on solving the business problem, and each of these posts presents an answer to a problem. Should there be elements of instructional design, without doubt. The business owner wants to make a profit. The impact of not doing at the minimum target audience analysis to at least the degree we have would potentially endanger the business. It is not a casual thing to develop a product for sale to the public. Consider marketing a product that had not gone through testing with the target audience. You could end up with a large investment in hardware and merchandise from a large production run with little consumer interest.

    In response to your last questions. I think it might be remarkably similar. Would we want to get the reaction of customers to the product look and appeal, get reactions as to the ease of use and understanding how to use, flavor, usability of operating instructions and consumer / equipment operating controls fit. We would certainly want to test the site to verify the financial controls work, that orders flow properly to the appropriate location, that a mechanism for customer feedback was functional and easy to use. I think that in the business world product information serves to educate and lead customers to purchasing decisions. Sales products are aimed at the affective, cognitive and psychomotor domains.

  2. I agree with Hank. While we are trying to test for usability of our websites, we tend t become focused on how the user reacts to the positioning of the menus, buttons, and other aids that act as the replacement for a human guide. We become enamored with the idea of making sure that a particular page, or section of a page should contain a particular subject. We worry over the path and the number of ‘jumps’ required to take the user to a site page location.

    The question is “What is the difference between this and a user getting into a new car for the first time?” I can relate the two simply by thinking of all the cars I have rented over the years. The ones that had attention paid to the manner the user would most likely be able to cope with, both in terms of driving and with using the various functions, such as cruise control, seat adjustment, etc., paid attention to the need for usability testing. Those that have paid little or no attention have often left me in the rental lot, scratching my head, or worse yet, trying to make sense of a function I suddenly need on the road.

    Usability is just that: Can this product be used in a manner that will benefit the user. The only way to determine if it can is to try it out on users, early and as often as possible, making changes as indicated at each stage of testing. A second rule for any usability test is that it must include representation from all segments of the proposed user population.

    That said, the cost of usability testing can be enormous. If it is undertaken and only a small return on investment is realized, the fact that it was done may be seen as a negative for the nest product. Exceptions to this rule include critical products or products that are originally meant for small user consumption. Think about the advertisements we hear on radio and TV about the need for testing for cures to health issues affecting only small segments of the population. Because usability testing is not undertaken, the chance of these medicines reaching the needful users is small.

    Usability testing is a universal part of anything that is being introduced for the first time, reengineered, or presented to a different user population. How well it is carried out and how faithfully the results are applied will make a great deal of difference to the intended audience.

  3. Wow… it’s nice to see my blog as a starting point for such an important topic! My thought on usability testing of products is that given the accessibility of simple and cheap methods like quick-and-dirty testing, 5-second tests, and expert reviews, there’s no strong reason not to at least minimally test most products. In the case of the hotel shampoo bottles, it’s hard to argue for usability testing of labels, but by adopting web evaluation methods like the 5-second test, it’s likely the labeling issue could have been resolved before bottles ever went to print.

    If you’re curious, check out the 5-second test website, inspired by Jared Spool –

    Samantha LeVan

  4. I really enjoyed the blog post. Samantha brings up several good points about the project designs. They are such simple examples too. I was specifically struck the bottle labels. They were pretty and I would be interesting in using them, but I think I would have been annoyed that I had to figure out what to use. I think this could go back to trying to be too creative instead of useful.

    I agree with Ed that usability testing is an important piece in anything that is going to be used by consumers. It’s important to see how people view the products and if they would use them.

  5. I definitely agree that such products mentioned in the blog deserves to have the same usability testing applied to it, such as what we are doing for our individual group projects. I think that is just done in a different way when it comes to products via marketing. In a market research studies products often tested with a small sample audience to determine what packaging, taste (if applicable), and how to market the product to the target audience. A lesson can be learned from The Coca Cola Company.
    “Coca-Cola’s introduction of New Coke in the 1980s demonstrates what happens when decisions aren’t supported by solid research. Coke revised the formula of its traditional brand of soft drink and lost millions in sales.”

    I really don’t think there is much difference between usability/audience analysis testing that we are doing in this class and what should be done on each product out there in the world. It may be named something different depending on what field the product is created from but it has the same goal of developing products for a target audience.

    I think anything that is out there that has instructions of use could benefit from a instructional designers expertise.

  6. This is an interesting topic and find Ben. It made me think that as instructional designers the initial conversations we have with our clients and customers is essential in defining what they expect when they have asked for an instructional designer. Within a field there terms of art that everyone within the field understands and defines similarly. Outside of that context someone may use those same terms very differently. I think the more you can clarify expectations, scope and terms early in the project the more successful you are going to be.

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