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All stroller companies keep in mind a certain ideal user environment while developing and building their products, however, these assumptions about user behaviours has been the cause of several accidents involving children. To improve the safety of strollers and reduce the risk of injury to children, we must look at the contrary user environment as well. This essay compares and analyses the ideal user environment and the contrary user environment and discusses how companies should be aware of the various unexpected ways consumers may use their strollers.
It discusses both scenarios and explains how our design solutions may be helpful in reducing accidents involving strollers.
Keywords: strollers, user environment, design solutions, safety
Being one of the eldest child in my joint family, I have always seen my little cousins being moved around in their strollers. I’ve seen my aunts, and even my mom, change several strollers for us just to get a safer and more practical one for daily use.
Thus, after hearing from our client Mrs. Nancy Cowles about the problem of stroller safety and the number of children it affects, I could instantly relate. I immediately remembered the various strollers we’ve had back home and how concerned my mother used to be about the wheels, the safety locks and even the seatbelt. Discussing these issues with my teammates we decided to analyse the reasons for children getting injured in strollers because if companies spend millions of dollars in research and development, they must’ve thought about most of the problems and would’ve tried coming up with better solutions.
Looking at the best strollers on the market today, we thought about the various design changes in strollers that focus on the utilitarian aspect without compromising safety.
This got us thinking that maybe it’s not just the stroller companies who are at fault but also the parents who use the strollers in ways they aren’t supposed to. But stroller companies still assume a certain ideal user environment while creating and testing their products without considering the actual ways people may misuse the product(which won’t change). In this paper we are going to look at both, the ideal and contrary user environment and create a design that can be applicable in both scenarios. Upon researching and interviewing our client Nancy Cowles, executive director at Kids in Danger (K.I.D) 78.7% (Fowler, 2016) of children that were injured by strollers fell on the ground (Ridenour, 2001) followed by 14.2% getting hurt by contact with the stroller and 5.2% got injured due to contact with other objects. On talking to our client, we got to know that a big reason for these injuries was because consumers weren’t using the strollers carefully and correctly. For instance, some would take the strollers on the escalator with their child in it, or, people would use the handles as hooks to carry their bags (Figure 1) etc.
These, however, are problems that cannot be fixed and, as clearly indicated by our client, we need to come up with design solutions that consider these kinds of uses for strollers. I have looked at the ideal user environment that companies have in mind while designing their products and have compared that to the actual/contrary user environment and explained how our design solutions are applicable in both situations and cater to our client’s needs. What we mean by an ideal user environment is essentially the assumption of the best-case scenario by the companies of how their products should be used by the consumer. They assume several things while bringing their products to the market starting with the biggest assumption that consumers always read the user manual when buying their product (Retting, 1991).
They assume that to use the product correctly and in an “ideal” manner, the consumer always goes through the user manual when buying the product without realizing that people neither have the time nor the patience to sit and go through an entire book to understand the usage and restrictions of a relatively simple and basic product. Thus, we were clear that our design solutions must be simple and intuitive to understand so that the user doesn’t have a hard time understanding its functionality and can be more conscious towards their child’s safety. Another assumption of the ideal user environment is that the strollers are used by parents only in parks and sidewalks that have a smooth, even surface and hence they won’t have a rough usage.
However most of the places, including sidewalks, have uneven surfaces due to poor maintenance wherein a few tiles are missing or else the stone floor levelling isn’t the same. Thus, the wheels the strollers come installed with are not as big and sturdy as they are supposed to be, causing the ride to be wobbly which leads to injuries in the child’s neck. Also, since these wheels aren’t as stable, they tend to come off leading to the children getting injured when they fall. This assumption has led to the wheel design remaining the same since forever with not much innovation being done by companies. This was an area, we realized, that needs improvement. Hence, we looked at other products that use wheels for inspiration (RideAsf.com, n.d.).
Then, the ideal user environment also assumes that parents are careful and ensure that their child is tightly strapped and is properly buckled up each time they’re taking the child for a stroll. This is true to a certain degree because parents do strap their child before moving but they cannot be sure of the buckle locking properly each time. We knew that this was an important problem but one that is tough to notice. Hence, we had to come up with something so simple yet important, that it could notify the parent each time the strap isn’t locked up properly. Another assumption the stroller companies have is that the functionality of a stroller is only limited to carrying the baby and hence they used to not provide any utility for storage or for other purposes. However, people use the stroller for various other things such as hanging their bags on the arms, storing groceries etc. This causes the stroller to lose its balance since the centre of mass is shifted which makes it unstable and riskier to use with children. Along with this, they also assumed that people understand the size of their stroller and hence, can easily steer it around.
However, due to the large proportions of some strollers, they are unable to comprehend how far ahead their stroller is which has led to collisions with other objects. After discussing these ideal user environment assumptions in depth with my teammates, identifying the design problems and researching extensively on the various improvements in stroller safety, the utility of various strollers and the most common reasons for accidents, we came up with 4 simple and intuitive design solutions. Our first design is a simple colour changing seatbelt strapping mechanism that only changes colour when it is properly buckled up. This addresses an essential issue of parents not realizing when their child is not safely strapped and solves an essential problem in a simple, intuitive way that the user can understand almost instantly. Another design solution that is essential for the child’s safety is the baby seat with neck support.
This design simply is a seat within the stroller, which ensures that the child is safely seated in the stroller and provides soft neck cushion so that the child’s delicate neck isn’t injured even if the stroller goes over rough terrain. It ensures that the child’s movement is restricted so that there are no jerks in their necks or any other body part since their bones are delicate. To ensure that the stroller is suited to be strolled in rougher terrains, we designed a new larger wheel with spikes and a spring suspension so that the stroller can easily go over bumps and rocks if required whilst ensuring a smooth ride as the spring suspension will absorb the jerks. Lastly, another simple yet essential design we came up with is of a side view mirror attached to the front of the stroller which will allow the parents to better understand the proportions of their stroller and be more careful while moving around corners. These simple solutions take into consideration that the users may not change their habits and try to adhere to the client's requirements of the designs being simple yet intuitive and not requiring additional effort to learn from the user.
In conclusion, the definition of an ideal user environment continues to evolve over time as companies put a lot of resources in understanding user demands while creating their product. For instance, strollers initially used to be simple umbrella strollers (figure 1) with a basic seat for the child to be moved around in, however, now they offer much greater utility. Yet, they still don’t completely incorporate the contrary user environment. Thus, our designs need to primarily focus on child safety in strollers not only assuming the ideal user environment but also considering the contrary user environment, but at the same time, they must not compromise on the utilitarian aspects of the strollers that are essential today.
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