All It Takes Is One Button
If you’ve ever tried to record with a camcorder or bought a new still camera only to find that it felt uncomfortable in your hand, or even had some strangely placed buttons that make you drop the camera frequently, you know firsthand how critical the usability factor is in media gear.
Imagine, in the most rugged of circumstances, that you’re crossing a river. Your camera is around your neck, a cooler in your left hand, and only one hand free to take some footage of a pack of dear you come to notice on the opposite shore. If you can easily grasp your camera in one hand, turn it on, point and shoot all without needing your second hand, you may luck into a beautiful shot. However, if you can hold your camera, turn it on and shoot with one hand, you may well miss the shot.
From Mind To Matter
But now imagine being the engineer that designed that camera. If you’re sitting at a desk all day, working on a computer, at best you will be able to visualize your way around the device you are creating. Unfortunately, that isn’t sufficient to create a user-friendly product simply because of the limitations of the human mind. So how can usability be accounted for?
Prototyping is one fantastic buffer to the creation of useless or inhibiting products that fail after their journey through the marketplace. When a camera goes from the whiteboard into its first prototype iteration, sometimes original designs need to change drastically. The ultimate test of the feasibility of the design is reality…and that reality entails environmental context, usage beyond what the engineer imagines, and any other considerations that the engineer did not have in mind when at the drawing board.
When Abuse Is The Right Treatment
In terms of testing a new camera with full realistic context, though, field testing is the ultimate. Give a prototype to an adventurous video producer for a week, and ask them to use the heck out of it. During that time, the camera will probably take a journey through multiple environments and situations that the engineer didn’t think of. What happens when the camera goes out into the sun for 18 long hours, or when it’s plugged into a falsely advertised grounded electrical plug? These are situations that may not have been accounted for in the laboratory.
Or perhaps the camera has a touchscreen interface which is useless when the user is wearing gloves. Unless the engineer is extremely experienced with designing this specific type of product and the design team has built many iterations of cameras prior to this one, they may miss such details, when they could instead have implemented a pressure-based touch-screen interface.
This camera illustration just demonstrates that it is in fact very easy for failures in usability and survivability to come through the development process and that they have to be accounted for if we’re going to increase the usability of consumer products.
The Feedback Loop
As a consumer, you are ultimately the one who comes to know a product best in its native environment. If you don’t take a moment to give feedback via e-commerce reviews, Google reviews, or getting in touch with the store that a camera to you, you’re limiting your ability to affect the direction of consumer products.
And so we urge you to take action to better the usability of things in your life and for your friends and family! Give feedback on possible, have fun using the heck out of your belongings in the meantime…you’re a pioneer!
About the guest post author:
Brian is a retired engineer. When he’s not traveling the world with a bag-full of optics, he’s shooting videos of his grand-kids and shooting the odd par in 18 holes. He leaves it to your imagination whether that makes him a good golfer or a bad one.