Don’t burn your hand

Posted by: | Posted on: November 3, 2017

How often have you burnt your hand trying to pick up a saucepan by the handle, or touching a hot plate at a restaurant?  When it comes to the web, as technologies improve and more and more people (including my mum) start to use the web, people’s expectations of  website usability increase and comapnies need to respond to stay in the game. Yet, when it comes to consumer products, although technologies have also improved in the fields of metals, plastics etc, we still see so many products on the shelf which could easily have been tweaked to make them more user-friendly . In the example above, it would be simple to incorporate smart materials so that a handle of a saucepan changes colour to inform you that it’s hot. Some saucepan manufacturers have incorporated technologies to display a red circle in the middle of the pan telling us it’s at the optimum temperature for cooking, so why don’t they do the same with their handles to tell us that’s it’s at the optimum level for… burning your hand!

Here are a few thoughts as to why the consumer product industry has been outstripped by the web industry in instilling usability:

  1. With millions of websites out there, the competition for people’s attention is intense, placing greater pressure on companies to improve their web usability in order to attract and retain users against the competition;
  2. Specialised organisations and companies such as  the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and Stamford Interactive exist, defining clear standards for the internet and embodying them in user-friendly websites respectively;
  3. Users can easily provide feedback to companies and webmasters regarding issues they have with websites, either via a simple email to the webmaster or the completion of a feedback form.

The above three points are not reflected in the consumer goods and manufacturing industries. Although there are many saucepans out there and we have a choice, brand loyalty, country of manufacture, and pricing force us into  that choice. Secondly , there are no organisations like W3C in manufacturing of consumer good, and although safety standards exist, they are not really linked in with the usability of the product. Finally, the mechanisms for providing feedback for physical products require far greater effort, and the fact that few of our own consumer products are manufactured in Austaralia users further discourages users to provide their constructive feedback to overseas companies.

Now, I’m not saying that the web has attained a universally high level of usability and we all know there are still countless poor websites out there. It just seems that although the web is still in its infancy,  it is already leading the field in terms of both expectation and delivery of usability and user experience.

So what is the solution?

I think we, as consumers, could raise our expectations of manufacturers to provide us with sensible products and be actively engaged in providing feedback for the products we use day to day. We should also learn to be more discriminating about good design, ensuring companies that have put some brain power behind their good products are rewarded for their efforts. This way we can hopefully raise the bar for other manufacturers and over time, reap the benefits of a world full of good, usable products.

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