Voice of Customer Research—Ergonomic Evaluations

I was recently reminded of the need for solid voice of customer research through its absence in the design of a consumer product. In this anecdotal example, an ergonomic study would have gone a long way to helping a hot-selling product not only fly off the shelves, but actually stay in customer homes.

A friend had recently purchased an electric leaf blower at his local home improvement store. As most people would be, he was excited to have a reliable new tool to make his lawn maintenance a little easier and more environmentally friendly. Much to his dismay, he had to return the blower because the handle was too small to fit his larger-than-average hands and caused blisters during use.

While my friend’s hand size is in the 90th percentile of the general population, he represents at least 10 per cent of the addressable market for leaf blowers that were eliminated through lack of a proper ergonomic evaluation. The field of ergonomics overlaps between industrial design and engineering, as it involves the design of equipment and devices to fit the human body. At Trig Innovation, we bring in ergonomic considerations early in the design and 3D CAD Sculpting process through use of anthropometric tables for the target population size as a basic design constraint. Then, to make sure the design matches ergonomic fit, we provide ergonomic evaluations to study respondents from the population extremes at the 5th and 95th percentile through one-on-one interviews.

When executing this type of evaluation, we provide the respondents with multiple rapid prototype options or existing products for evaluation. While an ergonomic evaluation can be utilized as a defensive gesture, in that the study validates the design for the population outliers, it should also result in a product that is optimized to fit the greater population in-between the extremes for the broadest possible market appeal.

The results of these studies often deliver detailed feedback on fine-tuning improvements to the prototypes for production to optimize for as much of the population as possible. During the study, we can also get a sense of the degree of influence that the product’s comfort has over the purchase intent.  This feedback may help to prioritize efforts of the product development team to make improvements that match the customer’s feedback.

When a product development team considers skipping an ergonomic evaluation as part of the innovation management process, it is at the peril of their product’s market success and a tacit statement that ergonomic fit is not a factor in winning the customer’s business. In this economy, many companies are spending millions of dollars in marketing and advertising to squeeze just a little more market share and sales dollars out of each product, when they could often accomplish similar growth by designing more effectively for a broader market.

Samantha Harr