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DESIGN

How to Make Sure Average People Can Use Your Product

Usability guru Don Norman shares tips on testing a new product.

Not everyone is Steve Jobs. That might be actually a good thing, since Jobs was known for his aggressive stance about product design and a ruthless attention to detail. For those starting a company, you do have to be ruthless and maybe even aggressive, but not everyone is gifted with the same skill set as the famed Apple founder.

Instead, you can test multiple versions of a design until you have a finished product that anyone can use. But how do you reach that end result? I talked to well-known usability and design expert Don Norman to find out. Here's his best advice:

1. Start by accepting that there are no guarantees.

One of the first realizations when it comes to designing a new product is to accept that there are no guarantees of success. Norman says the market is flooded with new products. In my experience, it's important to know that a competitor to your product could hit a nerve with new customers by sheer luck. Having a better design might not help.

2. Find people who match your customer profile.

Knowing that the bar is set quite high in an age of 3-D printing, low cost manufacturing, and social marketing, Norman says you have to find everyday people who will use your product in a real setting. That might require a trip to the shopping mall. You can start with other employees and even family members, but it's better tofind random testers with no prior knowledge of the company, your product, or even your own background.

3. Find a good sample size.

Norman told meyou can start with a small group of only five people to test. One idea he says is to have that group test a product design, make changes, then find another group of five people. It does not have to be rocket science. "Do not try to be perfect," he says. The key is to find "good enough" results that meet the needs of most people.

4. Let people test at will.

Norman says, once you have found people to test the product design, it's important to let them test it on their own and experiment. This might take time. You can take notes and watch how they interact with the product, but he says you shouldn't offer any suggestions or try to interfere with (or dictate) the testing process. It should be more free-form.

5. Accept whatever results you find.

Lastly, it's important to accept the results of the testing and then make changes until you see a positive outcome to the design. Norman says to avoid thinking the test subjects are just stupid or don't get what you are trying to accomplish. "Your challenge to to make sure customers love the product, even when you are not there," he says.

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Last updated: Aug 20, 2014

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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