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Usability Associates
38 Montpelier Circle
Rochester, NY 14618
585.442.0499
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Typical Questions

bulletWhat is Human Factors as applied to product development?
bulletHow do I know if I need Human Factors?
bulletWhat value do I get from using Human Factors?
bulletHow do I get the right kind of help for a project or a problem?
bulletHow can Usability Associates help me?

If your question is not in the list, please send it to us.  You will get a prompt response.

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WHAT IS HUMAN FACTORS AS APPLIED TO PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT ?

bullet Expected results are useful, usable, comfortable, safe, marketable products
bullet Also called other names such as Usability Engineering, Ergonomics, User Interface
bullet Involves designing physical products, software applications and web sites for use by diverse people
bullet Brings user input to development process through various methods including usability testing, focus groups

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HOW DO I KNOW IF I NEED HUMAN FACTORS?

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

bulletAnalyze 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.
bulletAssess 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.

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Characteristics of intended user population have not been clearly defined (e.g., novice vs. experienced vs. both, age, frequency of use, etc).

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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).

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You haven’t distinguished between what appeals to decision-makers vs. actual user.

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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).

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You don’t involve customers in the usability design of new products (e.g., through user testing, focus groups, mall intercepts, etc.).

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Product ideation phase is not user-centered – i.e., you don’t acquire user ideas during your formulation of alternative concepts for a product.

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There is an excessive reliance on instruction manuals or help files to inform users how to use products.

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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.

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The development budget for the user interface of the product is a miniscule part of the overall development budget

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Developers make excuses like the following for ignoring usability

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"We’ve always done it that way"

bullet"Operators will be well-trained to use the product"
bullet"We can put it in the instruction manual"
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"They’ll know how to do it after their first mistake"

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"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.

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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.

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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.

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You do not benchmark competitive products to see how usability of their product compares with other similar products.

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You get an inordinate number of customer support calls about how to use the product.

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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.

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WHAT VALUE DO I GET FROM USING HUMAN FACTORS?

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

bulletMakes customers want to buy your products
bulletIncreases customer satisfaction when using the products
bulletHelps 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

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HOW CAN I GET THE RIGHT KIND OF HELP FOR A PROJECT OR PROBLEM?

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?

bulletPerhaps 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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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HOW CAN USABILITY ASSOCIATES HELP ME?

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.  From this information, we prepare a statement of work that reflects our mutual understanding of the objective and scope of the work.

We then tailor our services to fit the statement of work.  If the scope requires supplemental capabilities, Usability Associates will partner with one of its affiliate firms to provide the service.  In instances where 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 even 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

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