Case Study

Testing Product Usability for Arthritis Australia

Published: November 4, 2009

Click for article gallery (1 image).

Many people dread buying products wrapped in hard plastic clamshell containers with fused seams. While the heat-sealed edges protect the product in stores, they also keep many purchasers from opening the packages at home - especially the millions of people who live with arthritis.

Many individuals with arthritis have upper- and lower-body mobility issues, including difficulty grasping and lifting, as well as reduced sensation, all of which can make opening products and packaging very difficult.

To encourage manufacturers to design arthritis-friendly products and packaging, and to provide individuals with a way to distinguish products that are comfortable, effective and easy to use, Arthritis Australia recently began an "Ease of Use" program that will involve testing by the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI).

"Almost 4 million Australians are living with arthritis and it can really limit their lifestyles," said Fergal Barry, strategic partnerships manager at Arthritis Australia. "This new program will allow these people to choose user-friendly products over the competition."

Similar to programs developed by the U.S. Arthritis Foundation and the Arthritis Society of Canada, products are tested for their ease of use by GTRI. If a product passes rigorous testing, the company can use the arthritis organization's logo in its advertisements and on its packaging.

"We are excited for Australians to be able to feel confident that when they choose a product that has this logo on it that the product has been rigorously tested by a world-class testing center under strict scientific methods," added Barry.

As the sole independent laboratory authorized to test products for all three organizations, GTRI evaluates products based on an arthritis-specific set of accessibility guidelines, as well as user testing by people with arthritis. Research participants, recruited from the local community, perform a series of tasks with the products being tested while researchers monitor their performance on these tasks.

"The results of this user testing and the checklist evaluation provide us with objective data about product accessibility, which we provide to the product manufacturer so that changes can be made in the design if necessary," said GTRI senior research scientist Brad Fain, who leads this research.

Products evaluated for ease-of-use commendation from the U.S. and Canadian organizations include appliances, exercise equipment, grooming tools, health aids, home and garden equipment, home furnishings, kitchen products, mobility aids, office products, orthopedic devices and sporting goods.

"This new program will greatly benefit those people with arthritis in Australia, as well as every person who has ever been frustrated opening a package or using a product," noted Barry.