Today, it’s World Usability Day. More than a hundred events will be held around the world by passionate people — I am one of them — who believe that usability is key.
Usability is about making products, even complex ones, easy to use by everyone. Of course, that is the ideal goal and you would probably agree with me that we are really far from it! It’s even worse: it looks like appliances like ovens became less usable in the past years. A few years ago I shot a 2-minute video showing a well-known Swiss politician explaining how he struggled with his new unusable oven. This was part of a project launched during World Usability Day 2006. The video (in French) is still available on Dailymotion.
Unfortunately, the oven is an example among thousands of others. Ironic as it sounds, I am writing these lines on a PC which is far from being a model of design and usability — I wish I could use my Macbook at work! But I am unfair. My PC is far better than my unengaging desktop phone. By the way, do you know why we, employees of companies and public bodies around the world, seem to be condemned to use these horrible phones ? How did they survive to the iPhone era?
Anyway, all these poor examples of usability are probably good for me and my colleagues: we will still have a lot to do in the future. By the way, sorry for not introducing myself properly before now: I am a usability engineer at Phonak in Stäfa, Switzerland, somewhere in the middle of vineyards; with Lake Zurich and the mountains in the background. A typical Swiss landscape as you would see it on postcards. I started with Phonak a little more than 2 months ago with the motivation to contribute to the design of great usable hearing devices and to make the daily life of hard-of-hearing people more comfortable.
So far, I mentioned examples of poor usability and design; luckily, there are numerous sources of inspiration when you look at Swiss iconic products made in the last decades — if you are in the Zurich area, don’t miss the exhibition “100 years of Swiss design” at Museum für Gestaltung, Toni Areal, Zurich.
Let’s go back to usability. To me, usability goes beyond products that are easy to use: usability is about including people, bringing everyone on board, no one should be left aside. It’s actually very close to my understanding of Phonak’s mission: to make everyone connected.
A few days after my arrival at Phonak, one of my colleagues gave me a pair of Sky Q90 hearing aids and went through the process of fitting them for me. This way I had a first overview of what a fitting session is like, before actually going in the field to meet fitters and users.
Since then, I have worn my hearing aids from time to time to try to put myself in the place of a hearing aid wearer. I also tried to connect a remote microphone, stream music from my iPhone 5S and answer phone calls that I made to myself. Everything worked as expected. However when I took the Phonak TVLink to try it at my home over a weekend, I was not able to make it work without knowing what was wrong.
At that time, I was in a furnished apartment. I had just moved from Geneva to Zürich to work for Phonak, and I was not familiar with the TV which was there. Besides, there was no TV user guide that might have helped me.
However, I guess that if I encountered this issue, others may have encountered it as well. That is where hearing aid wearers (maybe you?) come into play: I don’t see my role as someone working in front of his PC, disconnected from end users and fitters. I want to interact as much as possible with people using Phonak hearing devices; through interviews, observations, online surveys but also through this blog and other social media channels such as the HearingLikeMe forums or the Phonak Facebook page.
Are you a hearing aid wearer? What would make your hearing devices (even more) easier to use? Your feedback would be very useful for me.