How to Monkeyproof Anything

Have you ever used a product that you broke virtually the instant you picked it up?  Or maybe you own a product that seems like you need a PhD to operate?  These are the types of products that would rank extremely low on the Monkeyproof Scale.  On the opposite end of the spectrum are products that you just intuitively know how to use.  They do exactly what you need them to do, and they are long-lasting.  Products like these are thought of as universally great products and rank high on the Monkeyproof Scale.  Obviously, the Monkeyproof Scale isn’t an industry standard, but rather a tool for estimating how durable, easy to understand, and satisfying a design compares to user’s expectations.




1. What is Monkeyproofing?


If you have ever been to the zoo and wandered through the primate exhibit, you probably have an idea of what monkeyproofing means.  Inside those exhibits are toys of various kinds, all of which are extremely durable, easy to understand how to operate, and meets the expectations of the user (i.e. the monkey).  Unfortunately, sometimes people are not all that different from those monkeys in the primate exhibit and designers need to actively take steps to make their products monkeyproof.


Making a product durable can mean multiple things.  If you are designing the next great stereo system, that product needs to work many times over, and operate at the same level of performance in order to make a user happy.  If that performance degrades substantially over time, a user will become unhappy and most likely won’t buy your brand again.


On the other hand, if you are designing the next great toilet paper roll, you probably don’t need to worry about reliability over time.  Instead, your requirements change to having each piece of toilet paper work at a high level across all of your products.  In other words, each roll needs to function at the same high level of performance. Regardless, each of these products is reliable.  A user can depend on your product to work as it should to get the job done.


Continuing with the above stereo system, let’s take a look at ease of use.  If your new stereo product has 100-plus switches and knobs, tons of wire pouring out the back, and requires a working knowledge of rocket science to install, this is going to appeal only to a very small market segment.  They may be ecstatic to have your product, but the majority of users won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.


However, if there is a simple box with only a handful of buttons on the front for volume, open/close, and power, most users can quickly understand what these functions mean.  There is already a working mental model in their minds for how to use these features.  No need to retrain your audience.  This appeals to a wider variety of people and will undoubtedly lead to a larger market in which to sell your product. That being said, each market and product is different.  For that reason, it can pay gigantic dividends to properly identify your market and more importantly, identify their existing mental models.


Lastly, your product at a minimum must meet user expectations.  Preferably, your product should surpass them and delight your target market.  Like the monkeys in the zoo enclosure, they have a set of expectations about what their environment (a.k.a. product) will offer them.  For the monkey, this could be food, shelter, or entertainment.  For your users, this could mean accessing wifi, having a concert-like sound, or being able to quickly change a song to another track.  Once again, the key is knowing what your target market expects and being sure that at a minimum your product meets those expectations.


As a word of caution, it is also possible to have too many features in an attempt to delight all of your customers.  This is an easy trap to fall into if you are not paying attention.  If your new stereo system can also call for pizza, control your house alarm, and open and close your windows, your users may or may not be excited to have these features.  User Testing will tell you where to draw the line.




2. Why Monkeyproof?



Now that we know what monkeyproofing is, why should we do it?  The simple answer is that people like to buy products that they like to use.  Just look at Apple.


People have evolved to avoid pain.  If a product or experience is frustrating, your users natural instinct is to discontinue using it.  If you are lucky enough to have a monopoly, and users have a strong need to use a product similar to your own, then you may see some users stick around.  However, you can bet that as soon as there is an easy-to-use product that meets their needs, your users will jump faster than rats on a sinking ship.


Furthermore, people like to look good.  They are attracted to products that their friends like to use and make them look good too.  By making your products attractive, users will naturally prefer it over the competition.  Simple things like color, organic curves, and even simplicity can make a product more appealing not just to use, but to purchase.  What can you do to make your product more attractive to your users?


Lastly, people remember companies who products are durable and exceed their expectations.  Basically, people remember their experience, not your logo.  When designing your product, don’t just think about where to put your logo.  Instead, try to put yourself in your customer’s shoes.  Would you want to buy this product?  Would you use it 2, 6, or 24 months from now?  Shoot for the total experience from opening the package to throwing your product away.  If you hit the target, customers will keep coming back for more.



3. How to Monkeyproof



OK, great, you say.  Monkeyproofing seems like the way to go, but how do you do it?  This is both the easy and the hard part.  There are 4 simple steps to monkeyproof your product:

  1. Perform your User Testing very early in the development process.  Continue to perform User Testing periodically as you develop your product to validate that users are still going to purchase, use, and talk about your product.
  2. Keep it simple.  There is no need to over-complicate your testing or your product.  Simple is faster and will let you correct any mistakes before they become big problems.
  3. Allow for iteration in design.  You will not get it right out of the gate.  Possibly not even on the second or third time.  Allow for time to modify and test your design prior to launch.  You only get one shot at launching your product.  Do it right and make sure it is the product the market wants.
  4. Remember the experience.  Not just punching buttons, but from taking your product out of the box to throwing it away.  Are you delighting your customers?


The key to all of this is to be sure you and your organization actually listen to the results and implement the necessary changes to make it work. True, sometimes users don’t know what they actually want.  However, if you show them and their response is wow, that is terrible, I would never use that. It may be time to rethink.


On the other hand, if your User Testing responds with holy cow, that is amazing, why didn’t I think of that? You just might be on to something.






Monkeyproofing your product is a significant way to improve your company, your products, and get people excited about what you do.  Implement Monkeyproofing in your company and I would be shocked if you didn’t see more engagement, more profit, and more fun from every aspect of your organization.