Office life: business team during a meeting
Office life: business team during a meeting

Confused ? Design is not a solution, it is a step in the process of selling.

Design is a prediction concerned with how things ought to be, it aims to change an existing situation into a preferred one. It plays a vital role not simply in establishing how a product may look, but how it may perform to it’s desired function. As much scrutiny and rigour apply to the design of a service as to it’s efficiency and profitability. This is not a ‘big business’ concept. It has real consequences for the inexperienced sole trader or fast growing SME.

Product evaluation need to consider the product design and development process. Studies show this plays a crucial role in the product quality and performance. The product designers and business owners should attempt to predict the behaviour of a product and its users. The most innovative part of the design process is its conceptual phase in which most decisions are made. It is fundamental to understand that your products should manifest end users point of view, from initial concept to their distribution to the market place.

Product evaluation need to consider the product useability, this can be divided into different tasks. Task analysis is used to evaluate products and the user’s interactions with them and to assess their useability. In this context task analysis refers to overall user’s activity. The methods and techniques are different for specific applications such as workplace design, medical equipment design, interface design etc.

In order to offer the marketplace your new product or service it is imperative to ensure that your proposal will actually be used the way you intend it to be. Very often businesses face confusion when their product is ‘misused’ or applied in a way contrary to it’s original purpose; or a customer insists on the service being ‘specified’ for their market or company. This is particularly prevalent in the building and maintenance industries where major contractors ‘impose’ their work practices on suppliers and sub-contractors. The impact of failing to evaluate your product or service against the marketplace always results in unnecessary loss of profits and in far too many cases litigation or insurance claims.

4603543131_cc49c7f62b_zThe solution to avoiding these costly problems is to evaluate your offering before you bring it to market. User constrains should be included into the design project from it’s initial concept. In order to achieve the desired outcome the business owner or product designer must have the specific body of knowledge about proposed users and their behaviour, including ‘main contractor protocols’ etc.

The nature of the business project determines which kind of methods, strategies, knowledge and data are required for appropriate evaluation. For example:

  • Check published data; such as anthropometric tables, to see if there might be a problem between a user, your product or the environment. This can be particularly helpful when the user may be vulnerable, such as a child or an elderly or disabled person. If you know what size a user may be and what strength they may require to use the product, you can work out the consequences of them using it.
  • Ergonomic evaluation; reveal and anticipate problems. These ‘expert appraisals’ can be carried out using checklists that ensure that all aspects of the product and its use are considered. Expert appraisal can also be used before user trials to help work out the test method for such trials.
  • Investigate specific standards and general safety legislation that apply. Details of standards can be found from your local authority as well as trades bodies and associations.
  • Review accident statistics to see how relevant injuries are caused. Detailed analysis of accidents can help identify patterns of behaviour that, coupled with a particular product, lead to an accident. The chance of being involved in an accident depends on whether you realise that there is a hazard involved, whether you understand what it is, and whether you can do anything about avoiding it. Tables of accident data are collected by many authorities. In Australia try or for international fatalities The Home and Leisure Accident Surveillance Systems (HASS and LASS) and are available from the Consumer Affairs Directorate of the DTI in the Uk. There are many industry specific records for most developed markets worldwide. For example a large number of window cleaners, solar panel installers and decorators fail to secure their ladder tops to fixed eye-bolts and result in the second highest industrial accident records worldwide ! A little bit of advance planning and appropriate cost adjustment would reduce the amount of injury time, insurance costs and deaths in these industries.
  • Investigate complaints involving similar products ( especially from direct competitors ). People often report an incident with a product that was relatively insignificant, but it might otherwise have had serious consequences, and this can be useful information.
  • Carry out user trials with real, representative users. These are the most valuable source of information about a product’s performance and can provide the best quality of data to make a decision to change a design or make a new product. They typically involve watching people carry out a careful set of activities using the product. Alternatively consider using a home placement of products where your product is given to someone to use in a real setting for longer periods of time. In these cases users might have the product for 1 or 2 weeks so that a whole cycle of use can be studied. They might be asked to keep a diary of use during the time and report on any problems, or be given a series of tasks to do and report on. They will then be observed using the product at the end of the period, when they will be more familiar with its use. This can be more realistic than a laboratory based trial. Examples of products that might be tested by a home user trial are domestic appliances like kettles and vacuum cleaners, which are familiar to most people, and do not need to be installed.
  • Supervised user trials may be used where there are known safety issues, such as with garden compost shredders or lawnmowers. These trials are also good for giving people more tasks in a given time than they would normally get at home.
  • Where you are going to be offering a service, field trials may be the most appropriate and cost effective trial, though you must be sure to provide adequate insurance for such tests. Just offering a service free of charge to a new customer in the expectation they may provide business in the future does not constitute ‘evaluation’ and risks bankrupting your business before its gets running if you make a mistake. Site specific service evaluation requires your ‘prospect’ or ‘tester’ acknowledges the risk they are running in advance of the test.

When you have all this information about a product, then carry out technical tests to see what will happen when your product is misused in the ways that you have identified from field or placement tests. These will provide the answers to the ‘What if?’ questions. Technical tests can be used to simulate a real user experience. If used with data on strength and size, it is possible to test products in a similar way to how they will used in the ‘real world’. In many cases this is the basis for Standards, with an additional allowance being made for a margin of safety. In the case of dangerous products, or those known to have previously caused injury, it is clear that the only safe way to test is to do so with technical tests rather than endanger users in trials.

2211448811_2da593ef6f_zInstructions and warnings

It is very important to evaluate the instructions and warnings that accompany products. The content and appearance of instruction manuals and warnings is very important if they are to be understood properly. In the workplace, instructions and warnings reinforce what has already been learned through education, training and supervision. Obviously, at home, this is not available and users must rely solely on printed instruction manuals and warning labels. These often fail because they do not provide the right amount or type of understandable information.

You do not need to tell the user about obvious hazards, for example, that knives are sharp. But you must warn users of the non-obvious hazards of your product, both for its intended use and its foreseeable misuse.

There are three types of warnings that you can use:

  • Labels printed on the product,
  • Separate text in the instruction manual,
  • Highlighted messages throughout the instruction manual.

The main purpose of all warnings is to get users to behave more safely with products. To be effective, a warning must:

  • Be seen – it must catch the user’s attention by its design and presentation.
  • Tell the user about the hazard and how serious it is.
  • Tell the user about the consequences of failing to follow the instructions or of misusing the product.
  • Include further references to other sources of information about hazards.

Warnings are not an excuse for bad design. Warnings will not prevent a product being considered defective by law if the hazard could have been removed through proper evaluation and design in the first place.

The message is clear, design is not haphazard or driven solely by a desire to make a product stand out or be different from it’s competitors.

Dieter Rams Ten Principles of “Good Design”

  1. Good Design Is Innovative : The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
  2. Good Design Makes a Product Useful : A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
  3. Good Design Is Aesthetic : The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
  4. Good Design Makes A Product Understandable : It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.
  5. Good Design Is Unobtrusive: Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
  6. Good Design Is Honest: It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept
  7. Good Design Is Long-lasting: It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated.
  8. Good Design Is Thorough Down to the Last Detail: Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
  9. Good Design Is Environmentally Friendly: Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
  10. Good Design Is as Little Design as Possible: Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials, it should stress purity, and simplicity.


This extract is taken from my weekly blog on how to research and construct a meaningful Business Plan. All the information is FREEand will be FREE to download from shortly.

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