From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Do You Need a Training Class to Operate a Cell Phone?

If it seems like new technology is trying too hard to be all-encompassing, research agrees: a recent study by the Yankee Group showed that 50 percent of consumers postponed a purchase because they thought that a product might be too difficult to operate.

The study, referenced at the January Consumer Electronics Show by Gerard Kleisterlee, chief executive of Royal Philips Electronics, reflected the theme of a bevy of speeches that called for better usability, and ultimately ergonomics, with a strong consumer focus for the electronics industry. According to, Kleisterlee, in his speech, also noted that “complexity is intrinsic in technology but simplicity is how we should bring it to the consumer.”

Still, the electronics industry appears to be slow to adopt such an ergonomic mantra. Reports of 100-plus page user guides for a simple cell phone, recordable DVD formats that may or may not mesh with an owner’s DVD recorder, and high-tech cameras that require the consultation of the owner’s manual for anything more than point-and-shoot, are leaving some consumers frustrated by options they may not even want but are forced to buy on their new electronics. Ultimately, those same features being touted by the manufacturers as the next-great-thing are making today’s electronics, usually intended for convenience, far more complicated than the consumer desires.

“The more a product could do, the more that could go wrong,” usability expert Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group consulting firm told CNN. Nielsen notes that his own DVD player’s remote control has a whopping 35 buttons but the one he uses the most is highly inconvenient — “[it] is the smallest and in the middle of five other buttons.”

Some companies, though, are catching on and showing that, even with all the bells and whistles, the electronics industry can create a more ergonomic experience for the user. For example, Epson recently introduced a new television complete with a photo-printer, CD-ROM drive and a memory card reader, all intended to make printing a photo a convenient procedure for the consumer. But prototypes of the TV were found to be too cumbersome for users who were forced to scroll through on-screen menus to finally access the feature that they wanted. Epson solved this problem by putting a single “print” button on the TV’s remote control.