Inconvenient, by design

Amit Kumar

Amit Kumar was trained as a mechanical engineer with a specialization in thermal engineering from the University of Roorkee (now Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee) where h

UX or user experience design has become a buzzword these days. Essentially, UX design refers to the user journey and the efficiency and ease of use of the product.. Indeed, the focus is on designing products, services and experiences that customers will love.. And this is not limited to the digital world but encompasses all kinds of products, even services. With so much hubbub surrounding a product’s user experience, you’d think that the convenience of the user in handling a product should finally be top priority. But if so, then the UX movement has certainly passed through one of the main consumer segments, namely the elderly.

With a growing fascination with anything black – except skin tone – all kinds of products are made in black. On top of that, all the operation features are also designed in such a way that the keys and knobs blend seamlessly with the beautifully designed black beauty. Those who fall into the category of elderly and short-sighted citizens will be sympathetic to me on this matter. Take any remote – TV or Fire Stick for example, more time is spent finding the right button than entertaining. Designers should have fun though.

Or take most elevators or the elevators as we call them. To date, I have not been able to understand the design philosophy behind the buttons provided in the elevators. When entering the elevator, I literally have to look for the right button for the floor I plan to go to. But as soon as I win this battle and push the button, here the button is backlit! Common sense would be to have backlit buttons to begin with, making it easier for passengers to select the floor. But no, that might have tainted the intention user experience! Either way, the elevators, like all other spaces today, are dimly lit, supposedly a sign of sophistication. Recently my kids gave me a robotic mop. The user manual – a rarity these days and strictly aimed at low-smart users like myself – spoke of a brush to occasionally clean the mop’s dust chamber. But for days together, I searched for this elusive brush in all kinds of places, including the mop packaging box. One day, by chance, I discovered it – it was only embedded in the mop! You guessed it, the tiny black brush fits elegantly into the robotic mop’s black surface.

And then there are the lids (e.g. battery compartment lids) which you not only struggle to uncover but even when you do, the battle is only half won. Opening this blanket may not be as easy as it used to be. In making things sleek and streamlined, perhaps designers tend to overlook the basic premise that lids are meant to be opened. And to complicate matters even further, everything is black, from top to bottom. But what takes the cake is the refrain that it is all done to make user interaction with the product enjoyable and convenient. This may be the case with young people with nimble fingers and keen eyesight. But for the elderly, modern product design seems to have created more inconvenience. Compare this with the participatory design approach taken by Australian research institutes that prioritize safety and usability from an aging population perspective. Isn’t it high time that product design became user-centered in a more holistic and inclusive way?



The opinions expressed above are those of the author.


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