Vol. 1, Issue 4 -- August 1996

Consumers and Information

By Jane Fee

In previous issues of The Innovator, we have featured a series of articles discussing the many facets of rehabilitation robotics engineering. We discussed how the creativity of consumers is balanced against the technical knowledge of engineers to produce designs which are compromises between these two forces. There has also been review of PDS (Product Design Specifications) development, and an explanation of product mock-ups.

This issue's article discusses consumers and the gathering of information. Let's first define what we mean by "information" relative to developing a product for public use. The kinds of things we need to know are:

The gathering of such consumer information for a new product is an important part of the design process because it helps to shape how the product will look, how it will be packaged, and how much the consumers will pay for the product.

There are several ways to gather information for a new product: questionnaires, telemarketing, home testing, market plans, etc.

Telemarketing is a particularly useful tool for researchers. By speaking to someone directly over the phone, the consumer is able to give very detailed information. Consumers can also express opinions that might be important to the development of the product.

Another way to gather information is to field test-or home test-a mock-up of the new product in consumers' homes. In our research, we use a log book as an evaluation tool, and keep a record of such things as: ease of use, performance, noise level, and size of the product.

Sometimes the field testing can make or break a new product. When a product is deemed unsatisfactory, it can usually be traced back to a lack of research-research on the marketplace and the potential user.

Market (or business) plans can outline how a business intends to use consumer information to "market" the product. A market plan is generally an overview of how to set up a business. Market plans use consumer information to target the demographic group its advertising should reach and the region of the country in which the product will debut. This information is essential for any new product to survive in the marketplace, even a specialty item for people with disabilities.