Human Factors: Only Human? Plan for It.

Most customers prefer sleek and user-friendly products to clunky and confusing ones. So, accommodating for a variety of human capabilities and limitations could help you grow your business. Even if you don’t hire an ergonomics specialist, you can learn a lot by putting yourself in your customers’ shoes.

Try this human factors approach to help improve your offering for everyone.


1. Adjust your mindset.

Forget what you know

You might be a super user of your product or service now, but try to imagine a time when it was new to you. What was hard? How did you learn? What do you wish you had known? Everyone is novice at first. As you evaluate your product or service, channel your inner beginner. How could you make it easier for first-timers?

Pick a proxy

Imagine you’re targeting a specific person — your mom or your next-door neighbor Gary. How busy is she? How tech-savvy is he? Will she read the directions? How often does he lose his keys? Remember, you’re not talking to a flawless person who has nothing better to do than play at length with your product — you’re talking to impatient and distracted Gary.

Do yourself a favor: Talk to your consumers!


2. Consider common limitations.

Human factors aren’t a mystery. The same types of human limitations thwart our ability to connect with customers again and again. These are the most common culprits.

3. Try the experience.

Research, buy, and use your product — or a competitor’s — as an average customer would. You’re likely to discover ways to improve your product or experience.

Go shopping

Where is your product sold? Go to the store or website, or call the broker and consider your own human factors. How easy is your product to find? Does its packaging blend in? Does it stand out? Are the benefits clear at a glance? Does it provide enough information to support a buying decision? Are the people selling it knowledgeable? Customers shopping for your offering will have a similar experience, so make sure your product is easy to find, access, physically reach (if applicable), and buy.

Time yourself

How long does it take to order from your company’s website? To connect with a sales rep? To use your service? Write down an estimate first and then complete the task. Did it take as long as you thought? Longer? Was the process intuitive? Did you meet any obstacles? How many steps did it take? Were they all necessary? By experiencing what your customers encounter, you can discover ways to make the process faster, easier, and more user friendly.

Follow the directions

Does your product come with instructions? Read them slowly and do exactly as they say. Are the instructions clear or cloudy?
The sentences short or long? The words conversational or jargonistic? Do you have to do math? Consider that, by some estimates, more than one in five U.S. adults reads below a fifth grade level. Use what you learn to determine where an average or below-average reader would hit bumps.

First published in Design Goggles, our seven-part series in TEQ Magazine.

Up next: Simple user research: Pick their brains without the mess.