Can you set the video?

Video recorders and child car seats have topped a list of items in everyday life which people find most difficult to use.

In a research study carried out by leading user-experience consultancy User Vision, setting the video to record and installing a child car seat were cited as the most popular sources of consumer frustration, followed by digital TV systems, digital cameras, washing machines, dishwashers and tin-openers.

The research asked 500 consumers to name the items in everyday life which they found most difficult to use. Difficult-to-open packaging appeared regularly in the research—particularly for such items as batteries, orange juice, milk, tinned corned beef, CD and DVD players, razors, and Easter eggs. Adhesive tape was also a popular choice, with the inability to find the ‘end’ a major bug bear for several people.

In addition to car seats, several other children’s items fared badly on the usability stakes, including toy packaging, push chairs and non-disposable nappies. Domestic appliances such as central heating systems, digital alarm clocks and microwaves were also popular choices.

The research also revealed that the technology age is proving difficult for many to get to grips with. Handheld computers, PDA‘s and all-in-one printing/copying machines came up regularly, as did several web sites – with online supermarkets and train company sites the most regularly criticised.

Chris Rourke, director of User Vision, comments:

“It’s amazing that with all the technology we have at our disposal that could make products easier to use, many everyday items still manage to frustrate consumers. While some of these items, video recorders for example, have been superseded by more advanced and more usable technology, the fact remains that millions of people still own one. It’s also interesting to note that the design of many of these items has not moved on in several years, and some of the poor interfaces have been inherited by relatively new innovations such as digital cameras and set-top boxes.

“Ease of use is becoming increasingly important as everyday items become more sophisticated and it is a key criteria for consumers when shopping. Manufacturers should be looking at the basic mistakes they are making with their product design, listening to the frustrations of consumers and usability testing their products during development.”

The research was carried out in May 2005 by User Vision, a company which consults companies on how to make products and services usable. The study asked a 500 cross section of the UK public to rate, from a list of 40, the five items in everyday life which they find most difficult to use.

The top 10 least usable items were as follows:

Item Percentage*
1. Video Recorders 60%
2. Child car seats 53%
3. Digital TV systems 50%
4. Digital cameras 41%
5. Washing machines/dishwashers 37%
6. Tin-openers 26%
7. Packaging 21%
8. Central heating systems 18%
9. Handheld computers 17%
10. Non-disposable nappies 12%

* % of people rating item in top 5 least usable

Related article: Breakthroughs in usable design

What Can you do next?

  • Read some more usability and accessibility articles.
  • Find out how usability testing can help improve your product.
  • Attend one of our usability training courses and learn the tricks of the trade for yourself.

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This article was written by Chris Rourke. Chris is the Managing Director of User Vision, a usability and accessibility consultancy that helps clients gain a competitive advantage through improved ease of use.

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