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People-centred designing
People-centred designing

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2 New products – old failings

This section introduces product ‘usability’. It offers a case study of a vegetable peeler to illustrate how usability issues exist alongside other important concerns in the product development process.

If you look around high-street or shopping-mall stores, you cannot help but notice the number and variety of new products on offer. This year's washing machine or dishwasher, stylish furniture, multi-feature telephones, audio systems, DVD players, digital cameras and camcorders, all beckon the shoppers, asking them to take note of recent developments. Similarly, press and TV advertisements, leaflets and Sunday supplement flyers introduce us to ranges of brand new, innovative products. New technology offers the potential for real improvements to our lives – products that make jobs easier, quicker or give better results. But all too often the conversion of a technology into an artefact results in products that are difficult to understand and use. Some ‘usability’ problems are very obvious and we see them before we buy. For example a mobile phone where the buttons seem too small for our fingers to operate or a camera that seems too complicated to understand. In these cases we have advance warning and can find alternative products to purchase. But many usability problems only become apparent AFTER we have purchased a product. One of the most important purposes of design is to represent the users in the product development process. Good design makes innovation understandable and usable for the intended market. But designing products to be usable is only one of many concerns for a manufacturer. Let's look at one recent example, the Good Grips vegetable peeler from the American OXO company.

Case study 1: OXO Good Grips vegetable peeler

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Figure 2
Figure 2 Some of the range of Good Grips products

Since the introduction of the first Good Grips peeler, many other products have been added to the OXO range – some are shown in Figure 2 – and many other producers have taken up the design, manufacturing and marketing principles embodied in the original product.

The OXO Good Grips peeler is not a typical example of new product development, in that it was conceived and developed by a single entrepreneur. More usually, new products arise within producer companies, from their deliberate programmes for new product development.

Test your understanding

What are the ‘failings’ referred to in the heading of this section?


My response

Many everyday products have annoying failures or weaknesses in their design – some could make the product dangerous. Often, it is not obvious how to use or operate them.