Scholarly article on topic 'Utilizing end User Input in Early Product Development'

Utilizing end User Input in Early Product Development Academic research paper on "Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries"

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Abstract of research paper on Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries, author of scientific article — Young Mi Choi

Abstract A critical component in the development of new products is the inclusion of input from future users. This input is invaluable in defining and understanding the technical/functional needs that the product must fulfill. This input also serves as a guide to less tangible, but often as important, attributes such as satisfaction, acceptability or aesthetics. Along with the functional needs, these play an important role in the ultimate success of a product. This is particularly true in the case of assistive products where functionality is critical but the treatment of non-functional needs can play a large role in a device's acceptability, the stigma associated with it and reducing rates of abandonment. This paper will review the product development challenges faced by producers of assistive technology products. It will then describe results from two early studies which may provide new approaches to meeting these challenges. The first is an investigation of the accuracy of user input when it is provided based on different representations of a design (such as sketches, renderings or models) that are commonly available at various stages of the design process. A better understanding of this input will allow designers to focus more on the components of it that are more likely to accurately represent users’ opinion of a finished product. The second is an investigation into the use of augmented reality to facilitate usability testing of design concepts.

Academic research paper on topic "Utilizing end User Input in Early Product Development"

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Procedia Manufacturing 3 (2015) 2244 - 2250

6th International Conference on Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics (AHFE 2015) and the

Affiliated Conferences, AHFE 2015

Utilizing end user input in early product development

Young Mi Choi*

Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Industrial Design,247 Fourth St. NW, Atlanta Ga 30332, USA

Abstract

A critical component in the development of new products is the inclusion of input from future users. This input is invaluable in defining and understanding the technical/functional needs that the product must fulfill. This input also serves as a guide to less tangible, but often as important, attributes such as satisfaction, acceptability or aesthetics. Along with the functional needs, these play an important role in the ultimate success of a product. This is particularly true in the case of assistive products where functionality is critical but the treatment of non-functional needs can play a large role in a device's acceptability, the stigma associated with it and reducing rates of abandonment.This paper will review the product development challenges faced by producers of assistive technology products. It will then describe results from two early studies which may provide new approaches to meeting these challenges. The first is an investigation of the accuracy of user input when it is provided based on different representations of a design (such as sketches, renderings or models) that are commonly available at various stages of the design process. A better understanding of this input will allow designers to focus more on the components of it that are more likely to accurately represent users' opinion of a finished product. The second is an investigation into the use of augmented reality to facilitate usability testing of design concepts.

© 2015 TheAuthors. PublishedbyElsevierB.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license

(http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of AHFE Conference

Keywords:Product design; Augmented reality; User input; Usability

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +1-404-894-4874; fax: +1-404- 894-3396. E-mail address:christina.choi@gatech.edu

2351-9789 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license

(http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of AHFE Conference

doi: 10.1016/j.promfg.2015.07.368

1. Introduction

An important factor in the success of new products is gaining an understanding of user needs and wants and integrating them into the New Product Design (NPD) process. Many methods are utilized to identify these needs. Often they involve gathering opinions and input on a product based on some representation of a product concept. The general understanding is that the more realistic the product representation the better the input that can be elicited from a user. The goal of this study is to test this assumption by comparing user evaluations of various types of design representations with evaluations of actual products on which they are based.

During the NPD process, it is common for designers to feel that they do not have enough information about users' needs [1]. This is especially true at the front end of the design process [2] when many different ideas for a product are considered. Gathering this information is strongly linked to product success, but the best way to collect this information and which components of it will be most useful is not currently well defined [3].

The need to understand what information from users will be most useful is not confined to the very beginning of product development. The use of detailed physical prototypes is often recommended to gather detailed input, particularly for subjective attributes such as aesthetics and emotional appeal, ergonomics and usability, product integrity or craftsmanship [4]. The main drawback with these types of prototypes is that they cannot be built unless the product's design concept is already very well defined. This means that they are only available later in the process or after major design decisions have been made. Creating these highly detailed models can be time consuming and expensive. Even with rapid prototyping techniques, constructing a detailed model every design permutation that might be considered is not feasible.

The dilemma for a product designer is that one of the most useful times for input is during the early stages of concept development. Better initial understanding of needs and preferences allows good concepts to be generated and selected more quickly leading to fewer dead ends; fewer design iterations, and fewer design defects. Design defects generally become more time consuming and costly to fix the later in the design process that they are identified[5].

Since constructing a highly detailed model of early concepts is not feasible, designers will utilize other types of design artifacts such as sketches, storyboards or digital renderings. Unfortunately users are not very good at accurately visualizing a product from an abstract concept [6]. These types of design artifacts leave much more to the imagination. The more abstract or unfamiliar a concept is to a user, the less likely they will be able to provide an accurate opinion of it.

Numerous instances have been described where users ask specifically for a function or feature during product development and yet in the finished product cite the very same feature as something that does not actually fulfill the intended need or is highly disliked. For example, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) developed a computer support stand for their field agents to use when conducting in home surveys. They manufactured an initial design based solely on user input gathered from focus groups and questionnaires. This is a common method of gathering input but the focus groups were conducted without the use of any physical representations of the proposed design, only drawings and descriptions. An initial design was settled upon and manufactured. However when used in the field, this design was a failure. ABS found that there were features of the product that users highly disliked, even though these features had been specifically requested and deemed important during the focus groups [7].

These same issues are highly relevant to the design of AT products. Statistics on how the AT industry as a whole utilize design resources can be difficult to come by. The most recent comprehensive look at these issues was conducted by the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) of the US Department of Commerce in 2003 [8]. Respondents included small, medium and large AT companies. The majority, almost 62%, indicated that the uses of focus groups or similar methods are commonly used to gather information from users in order to try to optimize or improve the design of their products. Many collect this information not just from users but also from other important stakeholders such as health care professionals, hospitals, educators or equipment dealers. The other 38% of companies indicated that they do not gather this kind of input to support their design efforts. This can be potentially detrimental as many opportunities to develop a more useful product in the market can be missed.

Research and development for new products can be a significant cost. Based on the BIS survey, in 1999 AT companies spent an average of 3.5% of sales on research and development. This translates to at least $100 million based on sales of $2.87 billion. This percentage is comparable to what is spent on R&D by the U.S. manufacturing

sector as a whole. Smaller AT companies (with sales of around $300 million) tend to spend a higher percentage R&D:8.5%-9.6% of total sales.

The high cost, especially for smaller companies, makes it important to extract the highest level of benefit possible from this investment. AT products generally occupy smaller, niche markets [9]. Products for these markets may not be mass produced and so the AT company does not gain the same cost reducing benefits that are associated with mass production. Instead they are often produced by a custom manufacturing process that is flexible and more efficient for smaller quantities. Lower sales volume due to smaller markets and higher costs of manufacturing increase the importance of ensuring that any product released has the best possible chance for success.

Some AT companies diversify their products by incorporating universal design (UD). For products that are not highly specialized, incorporating UD in a product's design allows it to be utilized by a broader population of users. This effectively increases the potential market and can lead to higher sales. Of course this also means that the likelihood increases that a product's functionality will begin to overlap with functionality provided by other similar products in the market. Greater competition only increases the pressure on an AT company to produce products that are better than those offered by competitors.

Increasing the impact of R&D expenditures can clearly have a significant positive impact for a company whether focused on commercial or AT products. In fact many methods have been researched and employed by industry to streamline the product development process. Some common design methodologies employed for this purpose include the Stage-gate method [10], Quality Function Deployment (QFD) [11], or Agile Development [12]. The collection of user/stakeholder input is critical in all of these. Each utilizes input within the design process in different ways but all achieve the same goals of providing a framework for design to help ensure that the needs of the user and company are addressed. These methods have led to streamlining the design process over the years. The amount of time needed to produce a new product has been reduced. This saves development money and also allows a product to reach market more quickly to allow the possibility of higher sales. These methods have also allowed companies to identify bad concepts earlier meaning resources can be directed to more promising products and reduce the amount spent on dead end ideas. While these improvements are clearly important, the overall success rate of new products has not changed much over the last 25 years [13]. In other words, while companies have become more efficient at developing new products, the products that are released are not necessarily more successful.

2. Product representations

One potential approach to improving design decision making based on user input is to examine the validity of various components of the input. To do this end user input was elicited from users using design artifacts based on currently available products. The design artifacts used are representations of a product that would commonly be available at various stages of the product design process. In this study the design artifacts used were concept narratives/storyboards, concept sketches, 3D renderings and appearance models. Concept narrative s/story boards may be used throughout the design process but are very common in the early stages. Their purpose is to communicate different designs and ideas to users and other stakeholders in a common visual format that can be clearly understood by a wide variety of people [14]. Concept sketches are another form of visual communication. They are used to provide a specific and detailed view of a particular design idea. They are almost always created by designers as part of the design development process and can be used elicit input, especially related to the product form [15]. 3D renderings are an electronic representation of a design idea. Digital renderings allow a design concept to be viewed in detail from any angle or perspective (as opposed to a static sketch). They can be rendered such that they look realistic, as the final product would, giving a user a very accurate impression of what a product will look like. 3D renderings are also almost always created as a design is modeled in preparation for manufacture. These models can be used to do things such as show the product within a natural environment, demonstrate usage and even perform ergonomic evaluations [16]. Appearance models are created to evaluate the intended form of a design concept [17]. They are constructed so that they have the exact same look, feel, materials and other attributes that the final produced product will have. They are non-functional but are the same in every other way.

Design artefacts were created for two existing products. The first was the Upeasy Seat Assist by Carex Health Brands. This product has a hydraulic lifting mechanism that helps users in getting up from a seated position. The second product was the Gizmo can opener by Black & Decker. This is a cordless, battery operated, hand held can opener that can be operated with one hand and assist users with hand mobility issues. Once a storyboard, concept sketch, 3D rendering and appearance model was created for each of the products, each artefact was validated to ensure that it was as accurately representative of the actual product as possible. The renderings of each of the products are shown in Figure 1, storyboards of the products in Figure 2 and sketches of the products in Figure 3.The goal was to see if differences between input given on a design artefact was different than what was given on the actual product. During development, if a designer shows a sketchthe interest is not in what the user thinks of the sketch but in what the user thinks of the design represented by the sketch if it were a real product. This requires the user to imagine what the product would be like which we know is problematic. If users like certain aspects of a sketch but end up disliking the same aspects when it is in product form, this will introduce re-design iterations to fix. However if it can be shown that other aspects can be reliably evaluated from a sketch, then it can enable some design decisions to be made with confidence earlier in the development process.

FRONT VIEW

PERSPECTIVE VIEW

Fig. 1.A sample of the 3D rendering of the Gizmo can opener (a) and the Upeasy Seat Assist (b).

Fig. 2.A sample of the product storyboard of the Gizmo can opener (a) and the Upeasy Seat Assist (b).

Fig. 3.A sample of the sketches of the Gizmo can opener (a) and the Upeasy Seat Assist (b).

A total of 100 college students were recruited to perform evaluations in this study. Each validated artifact was independently evaluated by 10 users. The actual products were also independently evaluated by 10 users. The single artifact or product evaluated by the user was randomly assigned. A standard description of the product was read to each participant and they were allowed to study/refer to the artifact for the duration of their participation. The evaluation data was collected via the completion of the USE Questionnaire [18].

The survey scores from each design artifact were then compared to those given to the corresponding actual product using the Kruskal-Wallis test. Significant differences (p<0.05) were found between:

• the Cushion appearance model/cushion product and Opener appearance model/Opener product

• the Cushion storyboard /Cushion product and Opener storyboard/Opener product

• the Cushion sketch /Cushion product and Opener sketch/Opener product

• the Cushion 3D rendering /Cushion product and Opener 3D rendering/Opener product

3. Augmented reality

Another potential approach to improving design decision making based on user input is through the application of augmented reality. Augmented reality (AR) refers to a view of real or physical world in which certain elements of the environment are computer generated. These virtual elements could be a modification of a current element in the real world or could be an entirely new element. The AR application often inserts virtual elements into a scene by detecting markers. The marker could be a unique picture, symbol or shape which is replaced by the virtual element. Augmented reality technology is being used in a variety of industries including product development and healthcare.

The goal of the second study was to evaluate the validity of employing AR for usability testing. It compared the results of usability tests collected from AR representations of a product with usability test results collected from the fully functional, physical product. The AR representation of the product is an analogue to a digital prototype which may be available early in the development process where the physical version is an analogue to a functional prototype which would be available much later. Similar to the earlier study, by mocking up an existing product in AR we compare evaluations of the same product, only represented differently.

The Sony Walkman NWZ-E463 [19] was used in this study. It was chosen for its combination of tangible buttons and touch screen interface. Before testing, it was first modeled for AR. A 3D model of the product and interface was recreated in Solidworks. After modeling, an augmented reality application called Layar[20] was used

to place the virtual model in the real environment. Layaris an iOS application which lets you view 3D models and HTML in augmented reality view. Marker detection technology was used to detect the marker and replace marker with the digital 3D model in the real environment when viewed through an iPad. While the users viewed the virtual model through an iPad, they had the ability to interact with the object through augmented reality app on the iPad (Figure 4). Screen graphics matching the product interface were created in Adobe Photoshop. The interactivity was added by creating screen interactions in adobe Edge Animate. The Layar application then overlaid HTML on top of the digital 3D model allowing users to look at and interact with it. A total of 60 subjects participated, divided into 3 groups:

• 20 users who tested the actual product

• 20 users interacting with an AR display where a marker card was held by the user

• 20 users interacting with an AR display where a marker card was pasted on plastic block the same size and weight of the Walkman and held by the user

Participants in this study also completed the USE questionnaire. Kruskal-Wallis tests performed to evaluate differences between the groups. The responses to each question from each of the three groups were compared. No significant differences were found between them. The USE questionnaire itselfis divided into four categories:

• usefulness (eight questions)

• ease of use (eleven questions)

• ease of learning (four questions)

• satisfaction (seven questions)

The scores for usefulness, ease of use, ease of learning and satisfaction were each compared to respective scores from the other groups using Kruskal Wallis. Again, no significant differences were found.

Fig. 4.A user holding the plastic model with attached marker and viewing the interactive augmented user interface. The pictured arrangement was used during the study. Users with only the marker card simply held the card itself in front of the display to see the AR view. Users evaluating the product did not use the additional display.

4. Discussion

The first study presented could be viewed as a proof of concept. Because the different design artifacts have different levels of realism, we expect that there should be differences in the way that they are evaluated compared to the physical product on which they are based. The studies confirmed that these evaluation differences can be observed indicating that this can be a useful approach for further studying how users perceive a product based on an artifact. Further study would involve evaluating products/artifacts with users with different demographic backgrounds as well as developing a survey instrument that is tuned more for evaluating more specific characteristics of a design (not just usability). The second study shows how the use of digital modeling/interaction can be a powerful tool for evaluation. In particular it can allow multiple iterations of digital interfaces to be modeled and tested in detail with confidence that early evaluations will be representative of the interface in the final product. Future work in this area would involve finding ways to extend AR to tangible elements such as knobs, switches and other physical features. This is important for physical features since interaction with a knob (for example) through a touch screen representation is very different from the actual physical interaction and thus evaluations of it may be very different.

The two studies represent possible approaches for improving design decision making earlier in the product design process. Making better, more informed design decisions early can reduce expensive and time consuming iterations to fix design defects. They may also allow a greater number of design concepts to be evaluated within a given span of time than would otherwise be possible. Either of these outcomes is useful in product design in general, but particularly for assistive technology producers. Reducing the length of development can lower costs but more importantly, the ability to make better design decisions can result in products that are a better fit to targeted users.

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