The product design process focuses heavily on the interaction between the user and the product: how the product is perceived aesthetically, what cues it provides that tell the user how to operate it, how it needs to be manipulated, what safety features it needs, how it might be used inappropriately.
Another factor that should be taken into account as part of the design process is consideration of the environment in which the product will be used. Often, that consideration is addressed inadequately. Here is a short (by no means comprehensive) list of the characteristics of environments that could affect user/product interaction:
- Lighting: Is it bright or dim? Will cast shadows affect visibility? Could there be glare from lights or windows? Are there areas of strong bright/dark contrast? Will the user be operating the product immediately after moving from a bright environment to a dim one, or vice versa?
- Temperature and humidity: Could it be abnormally hot or cold? Could surface condensation cause any use issues? What about moisture ingress? Will the user need to wear gloves? Might the product be subject to radiant heat that could excessively warm touch points?
- Organization: is it clean or cluttered? Are there cords/wires that could get in the way? Is there adequate space to work, or is it crowded?
- Cleanliness: is the use environment relatively clean or not? Will the product get dirty after being used for a time, either from the environment itself or from handling? Is there dust in the air that could settle on surfaces, and would it impact the product in any way?
- Floor and work surface characteristics: Carpet, tile, concrete, wood? Might surfaces get wet/slippery?
- Movement/activity: Is the environment calm or busy? Will the user need to filter out distractions, and can the product be designed to aid focus on the task?
- Noise: is it constant or intermittent? Is there a predominant pitch? Is it sharp or is it a background hum? How might noise in the environment affect product warnings, alarms and audible indicators?
- What is the likelihood of the product being bumped/banged/abused? What protections can be provided?
Use these as the start of a checklist to be sure you’ve taken into account how the environment in which the product will be used might affect the design approach you take.