The Design of Everyday Things

Inspired by Don Norman’s classic work, the Design of Everyday Things, we’ve been thinking about mundane, everyday items that can have annoying usability flaws. While we have a particular focus on the human factors of healthcare and medical products here at Kaleidoscope, we can apply that same rigorous, analytical human factors approach to these everyday things.

So, here we have the seemingly benign 2.5 gallon jug of drinking water, a household staple used by a variety of brands across the country.

Problem 1: As water is dispensed from the jug, additional air is required to replace the dispensed water to ensure consistent water flow and prevent the jug from collapsing due to the pressure of the surrounding air. To add air flow into the jug, a small hole must be punctured into top with a sharp knife. The use of a sharp knife poses a potential safety hazard when considering the orientation and motion in which the knife must be used and the force necessary for the knife to puncture the slick plastic material of the jug. In addition, the most obvious place to puncture this hole is the top side facing the front of the jug, which has a slight slant toward the user. The angle of the stabbing motion must be just right; if the angle is too shallow, the knife blade can skid across the surface of the plastic, with the blade pointing in toward the user’s body.

A potential mitigation for this problem is to provide an adhesive pull tab that can be removed to reveal a pre-punctured vent hole.

Problem 2: The spigot contains a small strip of plastic that extends from the spigot base to the dispenser handle. The plastic strip is intended to prevent the dispenser handle from being pulled open until the user intentionally breaks the strip, pulls the dispenser handle, and begins dispensing the water. However, the plastic strip can be easily broken unintentionally, and the dispenser handle then opens with very little resistance. This can lead to the dispenser handle opening inadvertently when force is applied to the spigot during loading, or the spigot catches on a surface while unloading, potentially emptying water into a shopping cart or the trunk of a car.

A potential mitigation for this problem is to provide a screw cap over the spigot, similar to the caps on water bottles.

What’s an aspect of an everyday item that you would change to improve the user experience?

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Virtual Tools for Innovative Product Design

Co-authored article with Infosys

Design influences a product’s lifecycle performance and cost, starting from its development. Product development costs rise significantly if a defect is identified at a later stage. Using virtual tools for new product introduction simulates possible scenarios upfront for comprehensive testing. It gets products to the market quickly and saves money for a successful launch.


  • Design influences a product’s lifecycle performance and cost, starting from its development.
  • Conceptualization and design stages determine more than 70% of a product’s lifecycle decisions
    and cost.
  • Virtual tools are an effective way to design new products that serve specific customer needs.
  • Virtual models of new products accelerate their evaluations to shrink the development cycle time.
  • Organizations should create virtual replicas of workplaces for human-machine interactions studies from multiple perspectives.

Lifecycle cost is the total cost (direct and indirect) a product incurs in its life span. Conceptualization and design stages determine more than 70% of a product’s lifecycle decisions and cost.1 The earlier an issue is identified, specifically in the design stage, the easier it is to fix and avoid costly rework. Virtual replicas (or digital twins) of products, processes, and environments streamline design and new product development to reduce costs and time to market.

A common assertion is between 80% and 90% of new products fail. However, realistic failure rates vary by industry, from 36% in healthcare to 45% in consumer goods.2 Professor Clayton Christensen, best known for his theory of disruptive innovation, believes the success mantra is to design products that serve its intended customers. Manufacturers should focus on the function that a customer who buys a product would want it to do.3

To enable that, virtual representations of the product under development, in orchestration with humans and other entities in the ecosystem, is an effective approach. The approach encourages innovation. Designers visualize the product’s operating condition, create digital prototypes for trial runs, and carry out tests on a global scale. Virtual tools like 3D computer models and digital twins support informed decisions in early product design stages. This mitigates the risk of a wrong product release or a poor customer experience.

Virtual products are an effective way to design new products that serve specific customer needs.

When end users receive virtual training of a complicated product’s operation (like an aircraft engine), memory retention happens in the background. Any number of such instances can be created at a negligible marginal cost for repetitive usage. A central digital setup saves the cost of setting up multiple physical arrangements at different locations.

Parameters of Successful New Products

Product failures are more from a commercial perspective than technical. More than 25% of revenue and profits across industries come from new products, according to a study by McKinsey. Successful products relate to a set of core capabilities, with the top-most as follows:4

  • Collaboration to execute tasks as a team.
  • Investment to mine market insights and their inclusion in the product.
  • Plans for new product launches, comprising target customer segments, key messages to communicate, and objectives to achieve.
  • Talent development for new product launches with defined career paths and incentives.

At the same time, the primary reasons for product failures and mitigants are the following:5

  • Gap in meeting product expectations; delay launch until product completion.
  • Inability to support rapid growth if a product is successful; set ramp-up plans to avoid this.
  • Low demand for a new product; perform due diligence for customer requirement before planning a product. Launch products in suitable markets.
  • Difficulty in new product usage; provide proper customer orientation and training.

Virtual tools for product design address the above reasons for failure and increase the chances of successful product launches.

Design Thinking with Virtual Tools

Design thinking is a popular, technology-agnostic approach for new systems design and problem solving. It balances the technical feasibility of products, financial viability, and desirability from a customer’s perspective (see Figure 1). It is even more impactful when implemented along with virtual product design tools.

Figure 1. Design thinking at the sweet spot of desirability, viability, and feasibility


Source: Infosys

The design thinking cycle starts from empathy to understand a customer’s needs from their perspective, followed by defining, ideating, prototyping, and validating, in iterative loops. New product development and customer participation encourage collaboration in a virtual environment to practice design thinking. Immersive environments using mixed reality (combinations of augmented reality or AR and virtual reality or VR) create a working environment close to the real world, to identify and correct issues much ahead (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Virtual tools used across design thinking stages


Source: Infosys

Virtual models of new products accelerate their evaluations to shrink the development cycle time.


Design firm IDEO, for example, wanted to perform ethnographic research to capture customer requirements for new products. However, it was difficult to identify key observations from many data points and recreate them later, even with expensive videos or photos. It addressed the challenge through a VR camera.6

Kaleidoscope Innovation, a design and development unit within Infosys, designed a large freezer project using virtual tools. Such projects usually undergo several time-consuming team reviews. The team created a 3D model in a VR environment that helped designers walk around the product early in the design phase, evaluate its usability from multiple perspectives, and tackle proposed changes to design.

This virtual model did not change the overall project plan, but accelerated evaluation and decisions around it, shrinking the product development cycle time. The team selected the best design without spending time and money on physical prototypes.

Automation in WareHouses

Humans work with machines in warehouses. Material handlers carry out order fulfillment along with pick-and-place robots. Workers’ safety in all situations is important.

A leading e-commerce player wanted to validate design decisions for robots working in its order fulfillment warehouses to gain insights into their safe working alongside humans. Kaleidoscope Innovation created a virtual environment where employees interacted with robots in different situations. The team created a digital twin to simulate several configurations of robots and their working environment. The company recorded the results and interviewed employees about pros and cons of each situation.

The VR-based solution provided a cost-effective and safe way for the e-commerce firm to test new concepts in human-robot interaction and capture data and feedback before implementation. It helped the managers zoom out and look at the big picture, in contrast to one robot or equipment at a time.

Training for Product Usage

Operators need training to work on machines with complex functionality and procedures, to stay safe and productive. VR-based training prepares humans before hands-on operation on a machine. For instance, Rolls-Royce has rolled out a VR-based training kit for its airline customers to manage aircraft engine maintenance and repair.

Infosys’s VR-based program provides step-by-step instructions to train employees in a hospital environment. The program uses physical gestures to simulate actual tasks involved in a job. Gamification with scores and points keeps employees engaged and motivated. Scores reflect an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Training data is integrated with the central learning management system for records.

A multinational industrial and consumer goods manufacturer wanted to create an e-training platform for its new operators. It had a few integrated assembly lines for its finished items. The Kaleidoscope Innovation team created a virtual training module along the assembly line, one workstation at a time. The team used front-end user interface elements to guide users for equipment operations. It tracked performance metrics in the backend to provide feedback for correction. Best practices of creating a virtual replica of one workstation are used at later stations.

Futuristic Workplaces

While collaborative, remote and hybrid working has surged since the pandemic, the future is in three-dimensional virtual and mixed reality workspaces. Organizations benefit from a virtual 3D replica of its workspaces, equipment, products, avatars, or personas. Employee collaborations lead to faster new product development with effective interactions. Teams share ideas, explore, and invent new concepts. Early collaboration of team members in multiple locations enables them to make more informed decisions in the product development process.

Organizations should create virtual replicas of workplaces for human-machine interactions studies from multiple perspectives.

The future of work in healthcare, retail, engineering, and manufacturing is where humans and human-like machines work together. Organizations should proactively create such workspaces virtually and study human-machine interaction from safety, productivity, and employee morale perspectives before any physical implementation.


  1. Product life cycle cost analysis: State of the art review, Y. Asiedu &P. Gu, 2010, International Journal of Production Research.
  2. Myths About New Product Failure Rates, George Castellion, Stephen K. Markham, 2013, published in the Journal of Product Innovation & Management 30 pp. 976-979.
  3. What Customers Want from Your Products, Clayton M. Christensen, Scott Cook and Taddy Hall, January 16, 2006, Harvard Business School.
  4. How to make sure your next product or service launch drives growth, Alessandro Buffoni, Alice de Angelis, Volker Grüntges, and Alex Krieg, October 13, 2017, McKinsey.
  5. Why Most Product Launches Fail, Joan Schneider and Julie Hall, April 2011, Harvard Business Review.
  6. IDEO: Getting closer to the customer through virtual reality, Lauren, April 27, 2017, Harvard Business School.


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Designer Centered Design: Humane Design

While “User Experience Design” is often used interchangeably with “User Interface Design,” UX goes far beyond mere interface design to encompasses a user’s complete experience of a product, system or service. For Don Norman, the usability engineer and researcher who coined the term “User Experience,” all aspects of the product experience, “from initial intention to final reflections,” ought to support the user’s needs and desires. Years before Norman came onto the scene, this same concept inspired Jef Raskin, a human-computer interface expert, to define the ideal computing system. Though his vision of a computer, which was nothing more than a glorified word processor, was uninspired even in its own time, Raskin developed a set of UX Design principles, including UI consistency and encouraging users to develop productive habits, that are still relevant today.

“The Canon Cat and the Mac that Steve Jobs Killed,” an article by Matthew Guay, describes Raskin’s desire to create a computer with a humane interface. “An interface (i.e. ‘The way that you accomplish tasks with a product’) is humane if it is responsive to human needs and considerate of human frailties,” wrote Raskin. His goal was to liberate computer users through increased productivity—getting more done in less time. Inspired by Isaac Asimov’s laws of robots, Raskin defined his own laws of computing to achieve this goal:

“A computer shall not harm your work or, through inaction, allow your work to come to harm.

“A computer shall not waste your time or require you to do more work than is strictly necessary.”

Raskin’s second law is applicable far beyond word processing and seems to emphasize a common struggle faced by UX and UI designers alike. Powerpoint is a notable example of a poorly designed interface that results in decreased productivity. Its predictive toolbar feature that attempts to anticipate the user’s needs based on what has been selected. While this feature can be helpful when it correctly predicts the user’s needs, it can be very inconvenient when it guesses incorrectly, adding multiple mouse clicks to the user’s workflow.

Another violation of Raskin’s second law is inconsistency between user interface elements. Consider Apple’s latest iOS update. Previously, incoming text messages appeared at the top of the lock screen. Following the 16.1.1 update, incoming text messages now appear at the bottom of the lock screen. Neither location is objectively right or wrong, except for the user’s previous experiences of seeing new messages at the top. Now users must unlearn a previous habit to relearn a new interaction. Does the new feature add sufficient value to be worth the friction it introduces into the user’s experience?

The quintessential mnemonic “righty tighty lefty loosey” illustrates the socially ingrained understanding of how to lock or unlock a rotating mechanism. This convention becomes apparent when a user encounters an experience that is counter to what they expect. Because a user intuitively expects to turn the mechanism a certain way, requiring the opposite is a source of confusion and frustration.

When designing products, consistency is one of many usability principles, known as heuristics, that act as general guidelines for creating intuitive user interactions. Usability expert Jakob Neilsen, who cofounded the Nielsen-Norman Group with our good friend Don Norman, created the most well-known and widely used set of usability heuristics. These heuristics are used by product designers across the globe to design more intuitive and user-friendly products and experiences.

Another key heuristic that Nielsen defined is the user’s ability to match the design of the system to their understanding of the real world. Imagine a stove top with 4 burners arranged in a square and knobs that are arranged in a line. This creates confusion and tension because the user does not know which knob controls which burner. However, if the knobs are arranged in the same square pattern as the burners, and each knob activates its corresponding burner, users quickly understand which knob needs to be turned to ignite the intended burner.

The ultimate goal of user-centered design is to increase productivity and create an experience that is “responsive to human needs and considerate of human frailties.”  No product is experienced in a vacuum—each user encounters that product within the context of a lifetime of other experiences. Understanding the needs and frailties of the end user empowers designers to create more intuitive, efficient, and enjoyable experiences for users. While Jef Raskin’s Canon Cat was a commercial failure, in a world inundated with widgets, tools and systems—both physical and digital—his concept of a humane interface is perhaps more relevant now than ever.

Headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, Kaleidoscope Innovation provides medical, consumer, and industrial clients with full-service insights, design, human factors, and product development. For more than 30 years we have been helping our clients grow their capabilities, gain usable knowledge, and get worthwhile results.

As a full-spectrum product design and development firm, we are an expert extension of your product vision. Our teams collaborate across disciplines, providing specialized input to produce the ideal intersection between function and form. To ensure the soundness of our work, Kaleidoscope houses a full range of test labs, and we employ an award-winning team that embraces every challenge, applying their experience, ingenuity, and passion.

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  • Tom Gernetzke

    Tom Gernetzke

    Senior Industrial Designer | [email protected]

    Tom Gernetzke is a senior lead industrial designer at Kaleidoscope Innovation and has spent the last 12 years creatively bringing new product ideas to life.

Why Using an End-to-End Product Development Firm Can Benefit Your Business (Even If You Only Need One Service)

Even if you are just looking to outsource one particular service (such as human factors, industrial design, engineering, software development, etc.) for your project, working with a full-service product development firm for said service can provide immense benefits to your business and project. Here are a few key reasons why:

01 | Holistic Understanding of the User-Centered Design Process

Employees at an end-to-end product development firm have gained additional perspectives into the user-centered design process from team members in other functional areas. This often informs their own processes for product development, and enables them to keep key considerations from other departments in mind as they themselves iterate on your project. This is especially true when the firm is a small- to medium-sized business because there is more likely to be intermingling of employees, rather than siloed departments of functional service areas.

02 | Prioritization of Cross-Functional Collaboration

When a business chooses to work with a full-service product development firm, the individuals they are hiring for their project are integrated with people in different functional service areas on a day-to-day basis. Their colleagues and internal team members for other projects span different roles in the product development process. Because of this, they are used to working and collaborating with people who have different viewpoints than themselves. Working with people who understand different stakeholder values can make for a more pleasant overall experience and can produce better results for the user and client.

03 | Greater Efficiency for Clients

When clients approach a firm that is strictly a design firm, for instance, and later decide they require engineering support for their project, they need to then utilize an additional firm. This means more time and opportunity cost in exploring possible firms and finding a reliable partner, approving a new supplier, signing an MSA (master service agreement) or NDA (non-disclosure agreement), explaining the project to a new group and potentially connecting them with the other firm to move the project along. This time and hassle is greatly reduced when starting with a full-service product development firm from the beginning. While a new phase may need to be discussed and different team members may need to be brought up to speed, much of the work would ramp up far more quickly and efficiently with teammates from the same company you have already trusted to achieve your project objectives.

04 | Retention of Proprietary Information by Less Companies (Risk Reduction)

If a business decides to outsource a different service for their current project (similar to point #3) or outsource various services for other projects down the line, using a full-service product development firm allows them to disclose their proprietary project information to less companies and potentially less people – reducing risk.


These are just a few reasons why using a full-service product development firm can benefit your business and help you achieve greater results for your project. Kaleidoscope Innovation is one such end-to-end product development firm. For over 30 years clients have partnered with Kaleidoscope to improve the human experience. Offering both consultancy-style and onsite services, Kaleidoscope provides a full breadth of disciplines to meet their partners where needed, including: Insights & Human Factors, Medical Affairs, Industrial Design & User Experience Design, Engineering, Visualization and Software Development. To connect with our team, please fill out the form on our contact page or connect with a member of our team directly.

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  • Nick Macke

    Nick Macke

    Senior Account Executive

  • Matt Suits

    Matt Suits

    Head of Sales | [email protected]

    Matt has always loved interacting with clients to find solutions for their challenges. He was drawn to business development at Kaleidoscope Innovation because of the great potential he saw. After graduating from the Lindner College of Business at the University of Cincinnati, he worked with two startups, a marketing consultancy, a financial services company and the non-profit 3CDC. He believes that listening is the most important part of sales. In his free time, Matt enjoys movies, trying new foods, traveling and the great outdoors.