Putting People at the Center of our Design Process
What is User Centric Design?
User Centric Design focuses on how people interact with our machines. It’s about understanding how they will use our products to accomplish their tasks, overcome obstacles and achieve their goals.
Traditionally, engineers have a very technology driven perspective. They focus on features and capabilities and push those boundaries sometimes at the expense of usability and simplicity. Pearson’s User Centric Design principles really help our engineers to look at machine design from a user perspective, understand user environments, their day-to-day tasks, thought processes and challenges. This helps us focus on the features and functions that our customers rely on the most, which we then optimize in such a way that users with various experience levels can be successful in meeting their objectives.
So in a nutshell, user centric design is about making the interaction with our machines as intuitive as possible. We want to reduce the learning curve for operators and maintenance technicians, make it easy to interpret data from the machine into actionable information, minimize the margin for human errors and make set up, changeover and fault recovery a faster and more seamless process resulting in improved up time and equipment availability.
What drove Pearson to adopt User Centric Design?
Our customers have one common goal – to make their secondary packaging process as efficient as possible. While reliable, high performance solutions form the foundation for that goal, increasingly we realized that the limiting factor to reaching optimal efficiencies is the human element.
By focusing on the interaction of the user with the machine we can make a big impact on a plant’s efficiencies and downtimes, in particular in the face of the changing labor force. Experienced operators and maintenance technicians are reaching retirement age while their replacements still lack the experience and specialized knowledge. On top of that, many plants are forced to operate with smaller staff carrying larger amounts of responsibilities. High turnover, in particular among packaging line operators is a much reported problem for many manufacturers.
What are the benefits of User Centric Design?
Machine operators and maintenance technicians that are able to complete the tasks of their job more independently, faster and with more accuracy are directly impacting the line’s uptime and productivity. Having a more intuitive design allows new employees to build on existing mental models, like navigating tablets or smart phones, so that they are able to reach their full capacity much sooner.
Availability, productivity and quality are tremendously affected by how well operators and maintenance personnel know, use and maintain the machines. Pearson’s user centric design helps them accomplish those tasks with much higher accuracy and speed.
In addition, a design that is focused around the user also creates a safer environment. And by eliminating unnecessary work – the so called non-value added steps, Pearson’s User Centric Design works hand in hand with LEAN, TPM and Six Sigma initiatives.
How does Pearson employ User Centric Design?
We can never simply assume to understand the needs and challenges of the people using our machines unless we walked a mile in their shoes.
Initially, we relied heavily on in-depth customer feedback, prototyping and validation of assumptions. However, we soon realized that simply relying on customer feedback was not enough. To uncover the hidden or hard to verbalize needs, we embarked on an extensive study that made use of contextual inquiry. We gave people with different levels of expertise various changeover and fault-recovery tasks and had them describe what they were thinking at any given time. This allowed us to understand their intent and any associated challenges in achieving the objective.
What initially started as a design goal to be met, has now evolved into a key element of our product development process and lifecycle management. In effect it has created a cultural change for us – one that goes hand in hand with our belief in continuous improvement.