work boot designOne of the things that first attracted me to product design was its ability to make peoples lives better. A well designed product can entertain people, it can help them be more productive, and it can even keep them safe.

One of the best examples of the latter is the modern day work boot. Despite being a low tech product, it’s transformation over the last fifty years has been nothing short of impressive.

Let’s take a look at how the best work boots of today compare with those of the past.

Increased Comfort Levels

First off, we have comfort. The primary purpose of work boots is protection and early models were therefore designed with little else in mind. Unfortunately, this lead to boots that were the very opposite of comfortable. Thankfully, in the past twenty years, this has all changed.

Work boot manufacturers now produce boots that are just as comfortable as regular shoes. Some of the most comfortable work boots include those made by Wolverine and Caterpillar.

Lighter, Stronger Safety Toes

In the past, safety toes were made exclusively from steel. Nowadays however, they can be found in a wide variety of plastics and carbon fibers. The benefit of this design upgrade is that many safety toes are now significantly lighter. It’s also worth noting that neither plastic or carbon fiber conduct electricity.

Modern safety toes can also withstand significantly larger weights. Keep in mind that at the point of failure, safety toes curl over resulting in automatic amputation of the wearers toes.

Better Insulation

Waterproofing has always been a prominent feature in work boots. It’s only recently however that insulation became an important consideration. Today’s work boots range from those that are light enough to be worn on 100 degree days to those that are insulated enough to be worn in near arctic temperatures.

And as anyone who has experienced the latter will tell you, this is a major design improvement.

Longer Lasting Soles

Over the course of a work day, boots can take a serious beating. One of the most important features of a well designed boot is therefore a sole that can withstand constant pressure.

Over the last thirty years, a number of new construction types have been invented such as the cement attach method. The result is modern boots that can last for years at a time. Particularly long lasting boots include those made from Danner and Wolverine.

New Safety Features

Today’s work boots protect more than just your toes. Puncture resistant soles can protect you from stray nails and slip resistance can protect you from wet floors or patches of oil.

A surprising number of work boots even come complete with static dissipation to help avoid damage to electrical components. In other words, today’s work boots don’t just protect people on the job, they help people actually do their job.

 

UsabilityTestUsability is: The effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which specified users achieve specified goals in particular environments. – ISO 9241 definition

Lets simplify this in layman’s [who is familiar with computers and web :) ] language…

Effectiveness: It means, if the website/product/application is effective or not. Can user complete the task; e.g. can i get to know about the Management of a Company on a corporate site by using it, can i make a call using a mobile phone, can i buy a book online etc.

So, effectiveness is related to success of a task. It may not have best UI (User Interface), best User Experience but still user can complete his goal successfully.

Efficiency: It is about time taken to complete a task. If the website/product/application, is designed in a manner which can help user, to complete his task quickly, then it can be called as efficient. e.g. auto filled form fields, Amazon‘s buy in 1 click button etc.

So, efficiency is related to time. The lesser is the time, the better is the efficiency.

Satisfaction: It is related to emotional state of user’s mind, while and after using the website/product/application. Does the the User feel ‘Happy’ OR ‘Unhappy’? The simplest test of judging user’s satisfaction level could be asking him ‘Will you recommend our website/product/application, to your friends?’ The answer would tell us how much we need to improve :)

Specified Users: This is the most important part of the definition. Whatever we design, it has to be designed keeping the ‘Specified Users’ in mind. People, who are going to use our website/product/application. We call them ‘Target Audience’. We would get to know more about them in future posts.

Specified Goals: Anyone who comes on your website/product/application, has certain goals to complete. These goals change based on their role. e.g. a probable investor coming on a company’s website may want to know about the management, their professional background, their vision, company’s customers etc.

So, getting idea of company’s current business spread is this ‘Investor’s’ Goal. Similarly, getting to know ‘Current Openings’ in the same company could be the Goal of a fresher. Thus, these goals change based on user’s role.

Particular Environment: This has to do with the surrounding situations, from where our users are going to use our website/product/application. e.g. an IT employee who is shopping online from his office may have good internet speed hence seeing high resolution product photos could give him good User Experience, whereas the same images might take long time to download & appear on screen, if the site is accessed over a mobile OR on a dial in connection from Cyber Cafe.

So, following Usability while designing means, considering all above aspects & then design. This can’t be done in isolation by the designers/developers. Its important to get in touch with end Users, the stakeholders who are going to own the website/product/application and provide funding for it.

We would get to know more about the methods, guidelines, tools in coming posts…

I hope, now you know what is ‘Usability’. Do let me know your feedback about this post. Happy Reading :)

diaper bagAs a professional designer, I often find myself obsessed with the design flaws in every day products. My wife recently purchased a diaper bag and it only took me five minutes to realise that the person behind it knew less about sound design than a cat. I could only wonder to myself, were all diaper bags this poorly designed?

With a little bit of research, I found myself reading a website about the best diaper bags. And it turns out that quite a few products from the big names such as Storksak and Ju Ju Be have actually been designed with the importance of user interaction very much understood. So what is it that makes a well designed diaper bag?

Easy to Carry

First off, it’s important to realise that baby gear isn’t light. And trust me, I’ve seen what my wife carries. Load up enough diapers, spare clothes, food and baby bottles and you’re looking at a weight of at least 6 pounds. A well designed diaper bag therefore needs to be comfortable to carry. This means adjustable straps with built in cushioning. Backpack diaper bags are ideal in the comfort department.

Spacious and Organised

It should go without saying that a diaper bag needs to be spacious. Equally important however is organisation. Instead of one large compartment, there should be wide selection of small compartments for storing all of your bits and pieces. The result is a bag that keeps everything easily accessible. The alternative is a bag that you have to turn upside down to get anything out of.

Not Obviously Full of Diapers

A well designed diaper bag won’t just be spacious and comfortable to hold, it will also be fashionable. Just because we’re parents now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t value our appearance. And it doesn’t mean that the days of looking fashionable are long behind us either. A diaper bag should look like a regular handbag, tote, or backpack. A perfect example of just how easily this can be achieved can be seen in DadGears products.

Easy to Open and Close

Finally, a diaper bag must be easy to open and close. Loud zips are a disaster when a baby is sleeping. Complicated latches are even worse when your hands are full. Diaper bags should use Velcro to solve the first problem and magnets to solve the second. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a few pockets on the outside. Have diaper bag manufacturers even heard of user friendly design?

flash logoIn general terms, when building a website, designers take one of two paths: make the site in XHTML/CSS/JS or make it entirely in Flash. It is pretty clear we usually take the XHTML/CSS/JS route and use Flash only to add touches here and there.

Our rule of the thumb is something I read a while ago in a website: Flash shouldn’t be used for things you can achieve with XHTML/CSS/JS. I can’t remember where I read it, but I do know that since I did, it has been my weapon of choice whenever a client insists on Flash. There are many things that XHTML/CSS/JS can’t do and this is why we have Flash.

So, what are the most common mistakes Flash designers make according to Ahlera’s philosophy?

Intros that cannot be skipped

This is, by far, one of the most annoying things that have ever happened to web design. Flash designers take a long time to make these intros and they’re so proud of them that they actually force the visitor to look at it just to show off their mad Flash skills.

I guess it never occurred to the designer that people don’t come to a website to look at intros. They come to gather information and the designer’s flash intro is getting in their way.

It is bad enough that the site has a Flash intro. Don’t make matters worse by not providing a way to skip it. This is one of the worst things you can do to a website and to its visitors. Not providing a way to skip the intro does not help anyone, not even the designer, even though he might think that his intro is so hot people HAVE to see it.

Music

The year is 2014. I’m pretty sure most people have a media player and MP3s in their computer and generally listen to them while browsing the web. Why would the designer want to interrupt the music of their choice with the music of his choice?

It is very likely that if the visitor is not already listening to music it is because he doesn’t want to or because he can’t. We as designers and developers should respect their desire.
People share spaces with co-workers and it is very annoying for everyone when music suddenly comes on. To make matters worse, some websites do not even have the option to mute the sound or have hid it very well within the design.

Unless you’re Pandora, people don’t come to the site to listen to music. They come to gather information and the music is getting in the way.

Cryptic navigation

This is one of the things that puzzles me the most. I simply cannot find a logical explanation as to why anyone would want to encrypt their navigation menu. Why would you want the visitor to not be able to find his way around?

Imagine you went to a zoo because you want to see kangaroos and all the signs are written in Klingon. Sure, this is OK for some Star Wars geeks, but for every one else it is annoying, especially if all you want to see are kangaroos and get out of there.

This type of navigation encryption is not cool at all. It forces the visitor to click on everything to get to where he wants to go. Some designers add a rollover to these things which is definitely better than nothing, but the bottom line is that navigation is one of the most important things of a website and it should be as clear as possible, unless you’re making a website for hardcore Lost fans.

Even though these mistakes can be made by people who choose not to work with Flash, they are most commonly found among Flash-based designs. It is not wrong to build websites based on Flash, but in our opinion Flash should only be used when you need to do things that cannot be done in XHTML.