An interesting post at Autoblog has some data about product usability:
“Volvo CEO Stefan Jacoby has said his company’s products are “too complicated for the consumer,” according to Automotive News. Jacoby said 75 percent of Volvo customers don’t know “all the possibilities they have with their car.” He contrasted the automaker with Apple’s intuitive products, which make consumers feel in control of a device instead of overwhelmed by its capabilities.
In the past, we have discussed user-centric design and what we can learn from Apple. It is relatively easy to design pure hardware or software user interfaces. It is also relatively easy to manage pure hardware or pure software development efforts. Challenges arise when the product integrates custom hardware with integrated software: As development cycles, design processes and testing methodology tend to be quite different. What is a potential solution?
Agile R&D with disciplined iterations. We can not just ask the customer what the user experience needs to be, as it customer feedback requires working products (or models). Working products require hardware implementation – which takes significant investment. If the user experience requires updates, and results in hardware changes, costs can be high. Also, it is hard to keep going to customers for frequent feedback (If one had resources like Intel, we could just hire stand-ins).
R&D managers have to link technology development to customer experiences and develop a plan to integrate hardware with software.This requires bridging technologists with marketing / product management and is rather hard to do. We need effective planning that develops the user experience in increasing level of detail through multiple disciplined iterations. In the end, User-centric Design has to be imbued into the company culture. Or else it will not work…