The Value Comparing Similar User Needs Across Industries


While every industry has its unique user needs, you can get a lot of value from comparing different industries that on the surface wouldn’t seem to have much in common.

Two independent user-centered design projects were carried out to inform new product development. One project targeted medication inventory management of controlled substances. The other project targeted inventory management of lottery products like scratch tickets and lottery tickets.

Reflecting on the observation and interviews from each project, it became clear the two industries shared user roles, user needs, and workflow. In addition, the two industries shared terminology in how they described their needs, tasks, and workflows.

Medical inventory management

Administrators of pharmacies tasked with inventory management of controlled substances describe that a major problem is loss of product (narcotics) through losing products (e.g., pill slipped into a crevice and cannot be retrieved), damage (e.g., the blister pack is torn), and theft by employees.

Because of the high stakes of loss product (narcotics), pharmacy administrators have a need to carefully track inventory. In fact, tracking must occur at the end of each shift in order to identify any product loss and to begin the reconciliation process as soon as possible.

Throughout a shift, workers must account for each access to the product (narcotics). Employees are required to record missing inventory immediately. In the case of pills fall into crevices and damaged inventory, employees have specific procedures regarding retrieving, storing, and reporting each pill. At the end of each shift, a reconciliation process takes place.

Should a discrepancy in actual versus projected count (based on information recorded) occur, then a reconciliation process begins which includes steps such as identifying each employee who had access to the system throughout the shift, double checking counts and medication orders taken throughout the shift, interviewing each employee who worked during the shift, etc. Sometimes interviews are delayed because an employee is off shift and my not return to work for a day or more.

If discrepancies are not immediately resolved, additional activities take place. Losses are tracked over time and patterns of discrepancies are noted so as to inform future reconciliation processes.

Lottery product inventory management

Turning to stores that sell lottery products, a similar story emerged during the user-centered design process. Store owners tasked with inventory management of lottery products describe that a major problem is loss of product (scratch tickets, lotto tickets, and cash) though loosing products (e.g., a scratch ticket was mistakenly detached from the roll and stuck under the cash drawer), damage (e.g., a scratch ticket was torn), and theft by employees.

Because of the cost of loss product to the store owner, store owners carefully track lottery inventory. In fact, tracking occurs at the end of each shift in order to identify any product loss and to begin the reconciliation process as soon as possible.

Throughout a shift, workers must account for each access to the product (lotto tickets, sale of scratch ticket). Employees are required to record missing inventory immediately. In the case of tickets being removed from the roll by mistake or damaged inventory, employees have specific procedures regarding retrieving, storing and report each ticket. At the end of each shift, a reconciliation process takes place.

Should a discrepancy in actual versus projected count (based on information recorded) occur, then a reconciliation process begins which includes steps such as identifying each employee who had access to the tickets throughout the shift, double checking counts and ticket sales from throughout the shift, interviewing each employee who worked during the shift, etc. Sometimes interviews are delayed because an employee is off shift and my not return to work for a day or more.

If discrepancies are not immediately resolved, additional activities take place. Losses are tracked over time and patterns of discrepancies are noted so as to inform future reconciliation processes.

Comparing industries

As you can see, both industries display similarities.

[what is the value of making this comparison?]

Usability Is a Measurable Outcome


Consumers say, “I want a product that is easy to use. Companies say, “Our product surpasses the competition in ease of use.” Human factors specialists apply knowledge and use methods to assure products achieve usability.

But what is “easy to use” exactly? And how do you measure it?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines usability as the “extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.” [ISO 9241-11 (1998)]

Getting more specific, those terms mean:

  • Effectiveness: The accuracy and completeness with which users achieve specified goals
  • Efficiency: The resources expended in relation to the accuracy and completeness with which users achieve goals (productivity)
  • Satisfaction: Freedom from discomfort and positive attitude to the use of the product
  • Context of use: Characteristics of the users, tasks, and the organizational and physical environments

Through those criteria, usability is a measureable outcome. It’s the result of a process that optimizes effectiveness, efficiency, and user satisfaction.

One such process is the user-centered design process.The distinguishing characteristic of the user-centered design process is the focus on the people who will use the product, service, or website: knowing the user, knowing the user’s needs, knowing how the user works, and evaluating if the product, service, website truly meets identified user needs.

Throughout the user-centered design process, there are appropriate methods to use that are aimed at addressing specific questions and aimed at supporting specific design objectives.

To learn more about user-centered design processes and the appropriate methods, contact us.