UX design is the practice of improving the utility, ease-of-use, and pleasure of a product provided to an end-user while constantly striving to better understand them.
This is something that is not only applicable to digital products but also to the physical ones that surround us.
There are lots of industries that require UX designers to keep their audiences happy and engaged with the products they produce. In fact, some of these industries have been using UX designers for decades, albeit under different titles.
If you’re wondering what kind of products might have benefited from UX, here are a few examples of everyday things that were created through UX design.
Shining a light on the problem: the PH lamp
In the 1920s, Danish designer Paul Henningsen became frustrated with the lights in people’s houses. In particular, he found that incandescent bulbs created harsh glare, even when surrounded by a thin shade. He wanted to do more than simply improve lighting, he wanted to create a relaxing and calming atmosphere in the home.
Using a scientific approach, Henningsen set about re-designing the classic lampshade to include multiple shades that would soften the glare. And, in 1924, the PH Lamp was born. The design garnered him a gold medal at the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts. It also inspired many other designs, such as the Artichoke Lamp that built on the strength of the original idea.
‘Clipping’ it together: the paper clip
It’s an everyday product we all take for granted as it fits so seamlessly into our lives. And, isn’t that the point of great, human-centred design?
Even more interesting, however, is how the paper clip became the functional product it is today. In fact, its journey into being shows us just how iterative the UX process can be.
The paper clip started out as a thin, sharp pin that simply pierced through papers to hold them together. Many a finger was pricked as workers tried to use them with great difficulty. That’s when the improvements began. First, a horizontal wire was added to prevent finger pricking. That design, however, still left holes in the paper. Then, two loops were added.
‘Ketchin up’ with the times: the EZ squirt bottle
Visit any family home in the world, and you'll likely find a bottle of Heinz ketchup. This beloved kitchen staple became well-known for its distinctly shaped, original glass bottle. Also well-known was the annoying way the bottle would need to be ‘thumped’ in order for red sauce to splutter out and make a mess on, well…everything.
The design flaw came to light during research Heinz was conducting on its consumers in the late 1970s. In particular, they noticed that the bottle’s messy application made it almost impossible for kids to use. And so, the packaging design team came up with the EZ Squirt bottle, a lighter, plastic version of the bottle with a conical nozzle that the entire family could use.
The results were happier consumers and better business for the food giant. In homes that started to use the new plastic bottle, Heinz ketchup consumption rose by as much as 12 percent.
Stick to the plan (or don’t): 3M tape
Though less conventional, the story behind the Post-It note shows us that sometimes you can have the right solution, just not the right problem.
In 1968, 3M chemist Dr. Spencer Silver was trying to invent a super strong adhesive. Instead, he only managed to produce a low-tack adhesive that would stick to things but that could also be repositioned. Little did he know that he had created a solution to another problem.
That problem appeared in 1974. Dr. Silver’s colleague Art Fry was frustrated with the bookmarks he used to mark his place in hymnal books at church. They were easy to move but would just as easily fall out of the book. So, he tried out some of Dr. Silver’s tape out on his bookmarks. He found that his bookmarks stayed in place and could also be moved and reattach without damaging any pages. And, that’s how the Post-It note came to be.
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