Why Product Usability Matters

Human centered design in product developmentFlow Control magazine interviewed Emerson Process Management president Steve Sonnenberg and chief strategy officer Peter Zornio on product usability. The article, Emerson On Why Product Usability Matters, shares their thoughts on some of the whys behind taking a human centered design (HCD) approach to product development.

Steve opened by noting the demographic shift underway where experienced plant personnel are retiring in developed countries. In emerging countries, this large base of experience has not existed. In both cases, having easy to learn and use automation technology is critical for it to be used effectively to improve plant performance. It starts by proactively understanding how the product is to be used and how it can best be used—especially by someone who hasn’t ever used it before.

One important outcome of this thinking is to have a common user experience as much as possible whether, “…you pick up a pressure transmitter or a flowmeter or whatever; that the way you address that and interact with that, as much as possible, we want that to be common.” Steve compared it to the user experience if you pick up an iPhone or an iPad—the experience is very much the same.

Peter noted an important new metric added to the product development process, usability. He shared:

The best way I can describe it is typically when a product was built, we would have targets around quality and performance. We want to have a whole other quality parameter, which is usability. That’s historically not received the same level of attention that quality and performance do. 

When you tell an engineer ‘go build a product,’ they want to see hard specs, they want to say, ‘OK, this is going to read at this level of accuracy, or process this many points per second, or communicate at whatever rate, and we’re going to manufacture at high quality, and they’ll say, ‘Well OK, I’m done.’ And it’s like, ‘Well, no, you’re not done until we can also show that its usability is very high, and it won’t take three months worth of study and training to be able to use and get something out of it.’

As part of this product development process, experts in human centered design work with all of the Emerson Process Management business units to incorporate these usability processes and associated metrics into the development. Where traditionally quality reviews were done at different development phases, now usability reviews have also been added.

Peter highlighted one example, Device Dashboards. I highlighted these in an earlier post, Simplifying Human Interfaces via Dashboards. Steve shared one of the goals of an effective interface is:

…we try to put 80 percent of the information they need on the first screen. And it’s very easy to read. So rather than a long digit or cryptic description, we have simple gauges—like your car is overheating or whatever—so you can see ‘Oh, we’ve got a problem here.’

The article highlights the high-level commitment to include an HCD approach in executing product development projects.

One comment so far

Leave a Reply