Get out of the office! Even if you are designing a vacuum, you can’t design in one. You have to see how your customer uses it, watch their mistakes or misuse, see the shelf it needs to go on or the things users will put with it.

We see it too often in products and furniture and wonder whether the product designer or manufacturer even uses or tests their own product before it is too late to adjust the design. The answer is surprisingly, “No.”

Very few designers ever visit the factory that makes their products. The design goes from electronic drawings, to prototype (too fragile to actually use), to production – too fast for user testing. We need to learn from others mistakes or we will make our own.

Example: At one point in the last 4 years, we were in the offices of a major office chair manufacturer (not Whalen Furniture) and noticed that all the women in the office had sweaters and pillows on their chairs. We filed that away in our memory banks and when asked to design seating for Whalen, this was the first image that came to mind. Why? What was wrong with chair? Through our own physical and user research, we discovered that those office chairs were just too big for most women (and many men as well) and that women have a greater need for lumbar support due to the structure of our bodies, sometimes exacerbated by childbearing. The Madison Office Chair (for Staples) and Cushion Plus (for Golden Oak) office chairs were born from this – smaller, lower height adjustment range and a simple adjustable lumbar pillow.

So if you are designing a vacuum, clean your floors and experience your designs from the consumer’s perspective.

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