Why Designing for Convenience should be a Top Priority

Either my bathroom mirror has developed a concave shape or I’ve gained some weight lately. This is unusual for me because normally I see myself as a model of ideal human physique, so what’s changed? …Probably my new job.

As a design engineer I am the only one that does certain tasks which must all be done on a computer, in the sitting position. According to the theory of comparative advantage any time I do anything other than what I’m the best at represents a process inefficiency within my company.

I.e: Why should I spend time physically building anything when my company can pay a professional builder to focus only on fabrication instead? As far as my company is concerned the less often I get up and move around the better.

So it only makes sense that I am given work which requires me to be completely sedentary. There is no convenient opportunity for getting any exercise at work.

skinny mirror

Maybe I should trade up for a convex bathroom mirror.

My blogging hobby hasn’t helped things either. While I only post about once a week, I also work on multiple time consuming experiments on the side leaving me with very little free time or opportunities for burning calories, aside from those consumed by my humongous brain.

On top of that my lack of spare time has driven me to eating lots of fast food. McDonald’s is right on the way to work and it’s so damn easy to satiate my annoying bodily need for sustenance with a greasy delicious cheeseburger.

You get where I’m going with this? My lifestyle has simultaneously made exercise an inconvenience while increasing the desirability/necessity of unhealthy fast food.  Ultimately, convenience has caused the weight gain. (This has to be one of the primary reasons the U.S. has an obesity problem.)


When you think about it, convenience is a really really powerful force. Further examples:

   *Convenience stores: Simply locating a store closer to your house than the next nearest store allows businesses like Walgreen’s to sell over priced crap that you could get for less if you were willing to drive to the big box store further down the road.

  *Vending machines: We all know that snacks are cheaper at the grocery store and yet we continue to use these.

*Party leftovers: Have you ever noticed that people only eat food from open containers at parties? Try leaving the saran wrap on your cookies next time and you will end up with a bunch of leftovers because people are too lazy to take it off.

*Multi-Tools: Leatherman is in the business of convenience. Think about it; all of the tools on your multi-tool are compromised for the sake of making them fit in a single package that is accessible whenever you need it. The only reason someone would use that shitty little can opener is because it is the closest one available.

*Empty fridge drawers: The crisper drawers at the bottom of refrigerators are always empty because people are too lazy to want to open a second set of drawers to access food.

 *The high number of no-photo posts on craigslist. Everyone knows that posts without photos are significantly less likely to be clicked on, but people still do this because posting that picture costs them 3 more minutes.


So how can you use this information?


If we design with convenience in mind we can greatly increase the probability of a favorable outcome occurring. We should always seek to minimize the time & effort required to carry out desirable actions and conversely we should maximize the time & effort required to carry out undesirable actions. In other words:

make it easy and it will happen

Let’s use selling products online as an example. The goal of any salesman is to sell as many products to as many suckers as possible, so sales folk should seek to facilitate the customer’s purchasing process and eliminate any barriers that might stop them from buying.


Selling Products Done Right:

My favorite example of excellent design for convenience has to be McMaster Carr’s industrial parts supply website.  How has McMaster has risen to the top of the industrial supply food chain, despite being known as a particularly expensive part supplier and selling mostly commodities?! It’s because the entire process of finding & buying their products is so easy that it’s worth the extra expense.

Lessons learned from McMaster; A convenient website should:

  • Be easy to navigate. (have a search bar and meaningful narrowing criteria)
  • Have an large selection (One stop shop, I’d rather make one stop than two)
  • Transparent price & delivery (No need to request a quote)
  • Not require human interaction to make a purchase.
  • Have a knowledgeable and polite staff when the dreaded human interaction is necessary.
  • Provide complete product specification data sheets
  • Provide 3D or at least 2D Models


Selling Products Done Horribly Wrong:

For reasons unknown to me, my employer chooses to do business with many companies who have made the process of buying their products so unreasonably difficult that I’d rather eat a bag glass than continue to work with them. This is not the way you want your customers to feel.

Signs that doing business with you is a pain in the ass:

  • You don’t have a website…. (It’s 2015, this is downright criminal negligence)
  • Your receptionist is incompetent/hates their job.
  • Your website doesn’t have a search function.
  • You don’t have a product list, and instead have line cards….(ARRGG!!)
  • It is impossible to get dimensional data (or other specific data) on your product even if I call you.
  • You take a week to even acknowledge a request for quote.
  • Your favorite game is phone tag.
  • You require documents to be faxed.


Final Note: I have one shining star of an example of using inconvenience to manipulate assist people into not doing something. What do you think would happen if cigarettes came in a box like this?inconvenant cigatettes

Designed to annoy: http://www.erikaskin.com/index.php?/projects/design-to-annoy/

 This diamond shaped carton makes every aspect of cigarettes suck a little more. They don’t fit in your pocket and they are difficult to ship and display.


Final Final Note: Since I’ve been talking about convenience I thought I’d mention the EngineerDog Best of the Internet directory. I have found that maintaining a list of useful engineering websites is immensely ..er.. useful. When I’m designing parts I like to have all the tools I need at hand rather than having to Google search for things that may or may not be out there. In any case the link is there for those interested.



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