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How often have you purchased a new product and had trouble figuring out how to use it? How many products do you have in your home whose myriad functions you barely take advantage of? When a product is easy to use, we barely notice, but when it’s hard to use it can be really frustrating.

Product managers, designers and developers know their product so well that they can’t imagine anyone would have trouble using it. They forget that the average consumer doesn’t understand their terminology or follow their logic. It’s essential to bring in third parties to get an objective view on how well the product works and how easy it is to use.

In order to avoid developing and marketing a product that users will be frustrated with, usability testing must be conducted early in the development process. The earlier issues are identified and fixed, the less expensive these fixes will be. Each product has a list of specified tasks that a user should be able to undertake. For instance, if you are developing a location-based mobile app, users should be able to easily download the app, connect to GPS and search for and find relevant information. Usability testing can tell you whether users succeeded at these tasks and whether they were able to complete them in a reasonable amount of time. A survey of users will uncover whether they were satisfied with the product and allow developers to identify changes required to improve user performance and satisfaction.

Another reason to conduct usability testing is to see whether people use your product in ways you didn’t anticipate. If users find a new way to use the product, you can improve that feature and emphasize it in your marketing efforts.

In medical devices, usability testing is especially important because of the risk to human life. When mistakes are made in using these devices, the users are usually accused, but often the blame lies with the poorly designed product. Developers of medical devices need to consider who will be using the device, how much experience he has and where he will be using it. Usability testing will lower the number of user errors, reduce risks to patients, lower training costs and reduce cost of support and service.

Patrick Sirois

At Triode, we specialize in developing new products and services for complex industries like medical devices and transportation. We work with you closely to help define product strategy, with an emphasis on reducing the risks associated with innovating in these sophisticated and often regulated consumer-oriented environments.