Universal Access in the Information Society

, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 179–191 | Cite as

The effects of prior experience on the use of consumer products

  • Patrick Langdon
  • Tim Lewis
  • John Clarkson
Long Paper


Many products today are laden with a host of features which, for the majority of users, remain unused and often obscure the use of the simple features of use for which the product was devised (Norman in The design of everyday things. Basic Books, 2002; Keates and Clarkson in Countering design exclusion—an introduction to inclusive design. Springer, 2004). Since the cognitive capabilities of the marketed target group are largely not affected by age-related impairment, the intellectual demands of such products are frequently high (Rabbitt in Quart J Exp Psychol 46A(3):385–434, 1993). In addition, the age and technology generation of a product user will colour their expectations of the product interface and affect the range of skills they have available (Docampo in Technology generations handling complex User Interfaces. Ph. D. thesis, 2001). This paper addresses the issue of what features of products make them easy or difficult to learn to use, for the wider population as well as the older user, and whether and in what way individual prior experience affect the learning and use of a product design. To achieve the above, the interactions of users of varying ages and capabilities with two different everyday products were recorded in detail as they performed set tasks. Retrospective verbal protocols were then analysed using a category scheme based on an analysis of types of learning and cognition errors. This data was then compared with users’ performance on individual detailed experience questionnaires and a number of tests of general and specific cognitive capabilities. The principal finding was that similarity of prior experience to the usage situation was the main determinant of performance, although there was also some evidence for a gradual, age-related capability decline. Users of all ages adopted a means-end or trial and error interaction when faced with unfamiliar elements of the interaction. There was a strong technology generation effect such that older users were reluctant or unable to complete the required tasks for a digital camera.


Inclusive design Product design Cognition Training Working memory 



This work has been funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the University of Cambridge, UK.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EngineeringUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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