Sunday, March 16, 2008

How Do You Know Something is Usable Unless You Try It?

I know I mostly talk about the usability of technology in the workplace, but have you ever stopped and wondered about many of the products we use on a daily basis where we can likely suffer from buyer's remorse. Buyer's remorse is usually associated with high-ticket items like property, cars and computers, but I think it can extend to everyday items too.

One of the reasons we suffer buyer's remorse is because we find that the product is not usable to us in our daily life. It does not meet our needs or help us overcome the obstacles and challenges we face. When the product falls short of our expectations, we then begin to feel we have been cheated or made a bad purchasing decision.

Most technology provides an opportunity to play around with it or a trial period. Stores offer demos of computers and peripherals. Software developers offer 15 or 30 day trial ware versions of their applications and some websites offer a day or week of free access to their service all in an effort to let you get a feel for what is being provided and give you an opportunity to decide if you want to make a full purchase.

Note: I'll give cell phone companies some credit for their 15-day trial period, but I still don't think that's long enough. I once bought a phone where I think after the 16th day I was fully committed to taking a hammer to it. Day late and a dollar short... I guess.

Still, there are some items we buy that don't offer a trial period or a test drive and I would love it if we could find some way to make this happen. Here are are some items I think need to be "test-drivable":

  • Toasters - it never fails that light and dark settings for toast vary from toaster to toaster. I want to be able to test drive a toaster before I buy it and find the one that makes perfect toast.
  • Shower Heads - I can't stand low-flow shower heads! I'm all for conservation and not being wasteful, but do I have to spend twice as long in the shower to accomplish what I could do in half the time with a regular shower head? Oh, do I long for the days when a high-pressure shower head had enough force to knock you to the back of the shower wall.
  • Telephones - Cell phones and land lines, it doesn't matter. What I hate about not being able to test drive a telephone is that you can't hear what the ringer sounds like until you purchase the wretched thing, bring it home and get your first call. Most telephones have some of the most annoying ringers I have ever heard. If the logic is to make the most annoying, vertebrae piercing sound on the planet to get my attention, I'm afraid these manufacturers have done the opposite (on me, at least). When I come across these phones I usually disable the ringer and screen my calls.
Oh, I'm sure I could come up with more, but perhaps we could leave that for another day.

I guess the lesson learned out of all of this - especially if it has to do with technology or a product that is supposed to improve the quality of life or work - is to let folks take a test drive if you can and within reason. I think if we do this, we'll have less buyer's remorse and get better feedback from the end-users. When we take their feedback into account, we can build better products.

Besides, the greatest benefit will be the time I get back if I don't have to return these items to the store!

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