User Needs Discovery

A global leader in packaging wanted to improve the usability of its filling machines so they could reduce unplanned system downtime and packaging waste for their customers. The stakes were high for the packaging company and its customers because stoppages and operator errors can result in millions of lost packages.  We carried out in-context field research to uncover usability issues and design opportunities.


Our approach

We began by meeting with the client to understand the machines and the packaging process, identify key customer sites, and design the study to address known concerns as well as to uncover previously unknown usability problems and opportunities for improvement and innovation. We spent 2-3 days at each of 8 customer sites in USA, Japan, UK, Taiwan, Italy, Sweden and France. 

At each customer site we first met with management-level stakeholders and decision-makers to understand their business objectives and their own operating practices; then we observed, interviewed and recorded machine operators, maintenance technicians and trainers in the context of their daily work.

Then we worked closely with the client's own UX and marketing teams to analyze and interpret the findings, identifying key problem areas and operating pressure points throughout the entire production-line process. We assigned severity ratings to the issues so the client would know which issues to focus on first, and we developed specific and actionable design recommendations for each issue we found, as well as strategic recommendations for innovating and improving system operations and work flow.  


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Outcomes

Our work enabled the client to better understand how their customers, in different parts of the world, were really using the machines, and it helped them to see the machines, operating interfaces and packaging processes through the eyes of the people who work with them every day. 

Our ability to compare operating practices across different cultures meant we were able to understand how different customers were compensating for system design weaknesses, and we were able to recommend improvements to machine and operator interface design, as well as to support manuals and training regimens. We estimated that implementing changes to eliminate the problems we identified and aiming for even a modest 5% reduction in unplanned stoppages and waste, would increase production for a typical customer by about 2 million packages a year while significantly reducing operator training time and cost.