User testing is important in every aspect of the design process. Too often it’s thought of as a stage, near the end of design, to help make a product look nice. But it should be much more than that. Not only can it tell you what a product should look like, or how it should work, but it should be considered when designing what a product should do, and whether users need your product. We’re going to look at a product where the lack of user testing lead to a failed project – the Digiscent iSmell!
Have you ever been on the internet, perhaps visiting your favourite Star Trek fan-fiction forums, and thought “yeah, this is pretty good – but I wonder what it would smell like?”. Well Digiscent heard your cries, and created a device that allowed you to smell the many scents of the internet.
The idea was that the iSmell would combine its 128 ‘primary scents’ to create a custom smell for your webpage, advert or email. iSmell owners who visited your page would then have the custom made smell wafted to them through the power of USB, so they could enjoy it in their own home. The possibilities were endless; you could enjoy the scent of roses when receiving email from your favourite online-florist (what? we all have one!), or enjoy an endless supply of the ‘new car smell’ from your local car dealership. To say nothing about our ideas for the adult site i-like-feet.com
Unsurprisingly the product failed (I was shocked too!). Why? They never asked users what they wanted. If they had, they may have realised that “what does it smell like” was a question almost never heard on the internet.
Instead of using user testing as a way of determining what colour the device should be, they should have asked users, before even starting designing the product, what they would use it for. From lo-fi prototypes, and attempts to create scenarios of use, or personae of people who may need to use this product, they would have realised that the product wasn’t needed by their users, and didn’t give a noticeable improvement to their internet use. Since they didn’t use a user centred design methodology, they created a product that was useful for no-one. Oops!
So keep in mind, when you start your next project, that the user’s needs, the usability of a device, and the user experience should be a consideration from the start, and not just an afterthought. And the most obvious evidence that Digiscent failed to ask users about their product? They called it the ‘iSmell’.
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I would like to know how the company reacted when they found out that their project failed.
I happened to have found another article (from 2014) related to this project for anyone looking for more information.