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By Naomi Cherne

I was recently on an online forum for a touchscreen product because I was frustrated by a problem I kept having and the lack of any means to solve this problem (hey, did you know that toddlers like to touch interactive screens?). The company had a “feature suggestion” forum for its products and, sure enough, there was a post requesting a touchscreen lock feature. I clicked through to add my support for the request, and was confronted with pages and pages of ire. It seemed that the company had quickly released a new feature that met the original poster’s need but was not a touchscreen lock, and had marked the post as “Solved”. Hundreds of posters begged to differ, offering up use scenarios where the lack of a touchscreen lock prevented the intended use of the product, as well as a stream of anger towards the company, statements that they had returned the product, and descriptions of the competitor products they planned to purchase instead.

When people could not use the product they were frustrated but engaged, and when the company appeared to be dismissive of their stories they got angry and chose a different brand.

I thought it was interesting that people did not seem angry about the lack of usability until the company appeared to stop listening. Although the usability issue made people feel overlooked, they were generous about it, and offered excitement and stories and suggestions in the “feature suggestion” forum. However, when the company did not demonstrate that this forum was monitored and appreciated, people lost their generosity.

“I’ve been taking medication for 20 years and the boxes are always a problem for me but I’m just used to it.”

“You just have to accept it because you need the medication.”

“You don’t get to choose what box you like because you have to get what the doctor or the insurance company tells you to get.”

Medical devices are unique products: patients are suffering and their role in choosing is limited at best. Patients who participate in usability research can feel like finally someone is listening.

Fortunately for users and companies alike, this desire to be heard is a win-win situation.

Products that incorporate human factors research in their design will have a deeper understanding of their problem space, and product designs that are iterated with an eye to that deeper understanding will have smaller problem spaces when they launch. Products that are on the market can continue to learn about barriers to adoption and work to reduce these barriers. People are excited to share their stories of frustration. They are thrilled to help you learn about the under-served scenarios in their lives. Human factors research (e.g., heuristic analysis, usability testing, contextual inquiry) can translate that engaged frustration into a better experience for everyone. Everyone except for the toddler, who will be locked out of the touchscreen (if someone ever reads that forum).