De’Longhi: the usability test in people’s homes

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The coffee machine of the future, tested in today’s kitchens, to improve the user experience together with those who will live it.


How much does the test environment affect the results of a usability test? A lot. For this reason, the choice of the location is an integral part of our research activities. In fact, in a usability test we cannot control all the factors involved, but we can certainly mitigate as much as possible the variable linked to the environment around the test object.

So then, to evaluate a small appliance, the real experience of those who will use it, in the exact place and position in which they will use it, becomes essential. In people’s homes, then.

This is the case of a usability and co-development activity of an espresso machine that De’Longhi wanted to put in the hands of people, before being on the shelves of large retailers. A choice that led to numerous ideas for improvement and opened our eyes to solutions that were, up to that moment, only the result of internal reasoning.

The usability test in people’s homes

Just to get out of the “internal” and “laboratory” logic, we went to people’s homes, and we asked them to place the product in the position they would actually have inserted it. A condition that has facilitated not only the people, inserted in their home environment, but also the moderator who did not have to recite the classic mantra “do as if you were at home”.

In this context, we conducted what – instead of a usability test – could be better defined as a “hospitality” test: together with people, we tested a daily experience such as having coffee in the morning, in their own kitchen, to measure objectively how pleasant it was and how capable of making them feel really at home. We collected the experiences of De’Longhi customers but, even more preciously, we allowed the De’Longhi team to live in real time this experience of “reconnection” with their customers remotely, observing what was happening directly.

Remote viewing of a live usability test

Not just usability, therefore, but listening to very precious experiences and perceptions, which go beyond the good or bad use of a tool, but bring value to the brand through the eyes of those who really enter into a relationship with it, on a daily basis.

Outside the laboratory, where experiences are truly lived

Of course, it is not always possible to carry out the activities at the home of the individual persons of interest, but this does not limit us and we constantly work to broaden the horizons of our activities beyond the laboratory.

For a similar product line, De’Longhi also asked us to involve people before proceeding with the development of the product at a more advanced stage. On this occasion, however, the progress of the product was not such as to require a widespread presence in the individual homes of consumers, but it was sufficient to opt for an intermediate solution such as renting accommodation.

A domestic context, therefore, albeit not the real one of the individual test participants, still external to the laboratory, with practical limitations linked to the absence of a sink, a refrigerator and the classic kitchen set-up that did not interfere, however, with the activities of research.

A flexible and scalable approach that takes us out of the laboratory, where the experiences are truly lived, the advantages of which are tangible on different levels. Participating in a similar activity, donating a personal experience, is a rewarding activity, which is able to provide a sense of active and stimulating role, but it brings with it an inevitable cognitive load linked to the context, new, sometimes unknown and challenging. Precisely for this reason, being able to subtract the environmental variable or mitigate its impact on the cognitive load means having more relaxed people, focused on the quality of their experience with the product under analysis.

The TSW approach, from the manifesto to research activities

Of course, more relaxed and focused people are able to provide information and opinions in greater quantity and above all of greater quality and impact.

It is not very different, indeed, it is exactly the same concept translated into the relationship between company and customer, which states article 15 of the TSW manifesto: “Making things done in a simpler and more natural way is also convenient for those who design and creates. Because the satisfied people are also the most loyal.”.

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20 January 2023 Luca Artesini

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TAG: UX and UI usability test experience design The Sixth W approach user testing