In the summer of 2007 Drew, a recent MIT grad, started knocking on doors in Silicon Valley planning to raise money for his startup idea. The idea was for a backup and synchronization tool that would automatically store copies of your files in the cloud and let you access them from via a web browser.
One of the most common questions potential investors asked Drew was, “Why are you building another backup service?”
A number of other services providing basically the same features already existed at the time from well-established companies like Microsoft, Carbonite, Box… the list goes on. So, again, “Why are you building another backup service?”
He would respond with a question: “Well, do you use any of those services?”
Nine times out of ten, the answer was no.
“I intend to change that,” he would say.
Few people were using the other services because they were not easy to use. And, while they may have had the core features people wanted: they were not simple; they were not beautiful. Where everyone else saw a crowded market, Drew saw an opportunity.
And so Drew Houston went ahead and created anotherstorage service company, despite all of those incumbents. Today, that company – Dropbox – has over 500 million users.
Why? Because it’s easy, works automatically, and it looks good. In short, it delivers outstanding user experience – and user experience, on some level, is everything.
When envisioning new products, it’s easy to come up with a list of features that the new product needs to have. It’s critical that the developers use this feature list as a guide – but that the features themselves does not become the objective.
The objective must be focused on the user and the user’s experience – not the product. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry comes to mind:
“…perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away…”
Let’s take a look at two competing cell phones from 2008:Device ADevice BStandard cell phone features✔✔Instant messaging✔✔Web browsing✔✔Graphical User Interface✔✔Runs applications✔✔Camera✔✔Music player✔✔
Based on the feature list, the two products seem equivalent – and indeed, they were seen as direct competitors by the analysts of that time.
Here is another, user-centric (and admittedly subjective) look at the two devices:
BlackBerry Curve 8310. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BlackBerry_Curve_8310.JPG
First generation Apple iPhone. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:IPhone_1st_Gen.svg
Functional✔✔Intuitive✔Fun to use✔Beautiful✔Aspirational✔
The story of the market speaks clearly – Apple defined an industry while the BlackBerry faded into obsolescence:
Smartphone Market Share, 2008 – 2014. Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/chart-of-the-day-samsungs-mobile-market-share-is-tumbling-2014-11
Putting User-centered Design into practice in industrial products
This user-centered design is nothing new – but it is something often ignored, especially in the industrial space.
Somehow, companies often reach the conclusion that in the industrial space all of the human concerns – how we feel about using a product – don’t matter, and that end-users in the industrial space can somehow suspend their humanity while at work. That is, of course, naive and incorrect.
Let’s look at an example. In 2016, Ecogate introduced the greenBOX NXT, the world’s first dust collection controller with Wi-Fi built-in.
“But wait,” I hear you asking, “who cares about wifi in a dust collection controller?”
Indeed, wifi seems like a gimmick.
It seems like gimmick until the first time you see someone walking around their factory and getting answers to their questions instantly. At that moment, wifi stops looking like a gimmick and starts looking like a killer benefit.
“What air velocity are we getting on Sander #3?” one might ask.
With a traditional dust collection system, the answer involves getting a drill, an air velocity meter, a manlift, navigating all of the above around the factory while everything is in production, drilling a hole into the duct, and carefully taking and averaging multiple readings. Phew!
With Ecogate, it takes about 20 seconds – pull out your phone, load the greenBOX web interface, click on the machine in question. That’s it!
Checking air velocities on the Ecogate greenBOX NXT web interface on an iPhone
Oftentimes, it’s hard to appreciate the impact that the difference between a mediocre user interface and a great interface will have on the user experience, especially if we have grown accustomed to the mediocre user experience over a period of many years.
It takes a hands-on touch – a WOW! moment – to truly drive the impact home.
Changing the dust collection experience
What would a user-centric dust collection control system mean to you?
What if you did not have to start and stop your dust collection system manually every day?
What if your dust collection system used 68% less electricity?
What if your factory was quieter?
What if you knew what air velocity you have at each machine at all times?
What if you could check the system status from anywhere?
What if you knew how much each machine on the factory floor was being used?
What if you had to change your filter bags half as often?
What if you could increase the capacity of your existing dust collection system – without changing the dust collector or the ducting?
What if your system automatically adjusted itself when you installed additional machines?
What if you received emails from your system with whatever needed your attention?