Designing with users in mind

Now here's an idea, why not design your promotional and technical literature and your product in conjunction with end users?

We have all experienced the incomprehensible manuals and poor sales literature associated with many engineering and technical products, and the irrelevance of many products designed according to the 'gut feelings' of marketing departments. One realises there might be lessons that needs to be learned.

A good example of this comes from a most unusual source. African farmers are being urged to adopt better agricultural practices, but delivering quick comprehensible and appropriate information on products to them is a problem.

Addressing a recent meeting organised by the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich, Professor Anthony Youdeowi, explained his breakthrough came by working directly with the end user so he could find out exactly what they did. By establishing what their problems are, what they need to know, and what sort of promotional material they have been working with, he was able to improve what was happening.

This was followed by a work group preparing field trial versions of materials through a formal process involving analysis of needs and 'lecturettes'. Only then are draft materials shown to farmers, again working with them in groups, before going back to preparing final versions. Building on this technique, Professor Youdeowi has prepared various science text books for children, also prepared in consultation with kids, which are now being used in classrooms.

Sounds obvious doesn't it? Yet so many firms choose to ignore this principle. Notable exceptions are, of course, the CAD companies. They work closely with user groups. Another is Apple which are said to be obsessed with users. After all, there are a myriad MP3 players and mobile phones out there, but which ones are the most sought after and sell for the highest prices?

Dr Tom Shelley

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