All About Customer-First Design

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From ease of use to how it feels in your hand, learn about the experts who help shape the products you use every day.

Newell Brands' Usability Design ensures the user is in mind at every stage of the product development process. It’s a freshly expanded addition to Newell Brands' design capability.

Laura Vennie, Director of Usability at Newell Brands' Design Center in Kalamazoo, MI, explained the three disciplines in Usability:

  1. Human factors/usability, focuses on making products easier for consumers to use from a cognitive and physical standpoint. We work with real-world users to see what kind of issues they have and come up with ways to make it easier.
  2. Interaction design, which is the practice of designing interactive products (for example, the digital screens on some Dymo products).
  3. Craftsmanship, which is where we compare our products to measure and improve product quality (both real and perceived), for fit, finish, sound and feel. It’s a professional assessment tool that we use throughout the design, development and manufacturing process to reduce costly changes through early identification and resolution of issues. A major outcome of a craftsmanship review is a single craftsmanship number; we can quickly see how we compare and see how we are progressing as we proceed through the development of the project.

This capability as a centralized function of design is new to Newell Brands' Design Center. Usability is a direct investment in our consumers. Most members of Vennie’s team have master’s degrees or Ph.Ds in Ergonomics, Psychology or Human Factors Engineering. “Before, there was one Usability professional here,” according to Vennie. “Now there will be two people dedicated to each of our business segments. This level of investment and focus will give us a great advantage.”

The work is very collaborative: “As soon as a design brief is done, we’re immediately interacting with R&D, Technology, and Consumer Marketing Insights (CMI) throughout the project,” Vennie says. “Our goal is to keep the user in mind at every step.”

Currently, Usability is working as part of a team with Industrial Design, Marketing and CMI, to evaluate products for Rubbermaid Commercial Products. That means research to understand what usability issues may exist in our products and creating and testing prototypes with end-users. Vennie’s team closely viewed end-users interact with prototypes, observing their behavior to make recommendations for the future products.

“For example, we know with mopping, we have a lot of opportunities to pursue within Usability to make users’ jobs easier and faster,” says Vennie.

“This is a very exciting time for Design, and especially for me here in Usability. It’s a perfect time really. In the year I’ve been here, it’s amazing how much people are beginning to embrace Usability. People are open to having us, which is not always the case from what I’ve seen. It’s very exciting to see people, when they know what we can do, asking for our support.”

Laura continued, “We are here to support the business. We know users. We know their physical abilities, their cognitive abilities, and their needs, and we’re helping incorporate this into our products.”

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