Increasing Efficiency in Task Completion:
Product Design, Task Design, Natural Cues, and Accommodations
In this article, I will define and provide examples of product design, task design, natural cues, and accommodations and discuss the significance within the larger scope of task completion.
Product design & Task Design
Product design is defined as “the process designers use to blend user needs with business goals to help brands make consistently successful products.” In the context of job performance, the design of a product can make a task easier to complete or harder. On the other hand, task design is about efficiency; “An arrangement of a scheme of actions leading to a learning outcome or artifact.”
Good product design can eliminate the number of alterations to a task’s structure and fewer administrative questions and problems overall. Let’s look at an example of poor product design in the workplace.
Sarah works at a gym where she washes mirrors and sanitizes equipment. The bottles of solution she uses to complete each task are identical in color, shape, and size. When Sarah first started her job, she frequently mixed up the bottles–accidentally spraying the equipment with glass cleaner and the mirrors with diluted bleach. Sarah shared her frustrations with a coworker who helped her label the bottles with colored markers; then, she helped her develop a detailed cleaning routine to reduce the possibility of future errors.
Due to the revisions made to the task’s structure, today, Sarah successfully sanitizes all the exercise equipment with the bleach solution before switching bottles and washing all the mirrors with the glass cleaner.
Natural Cues & Accommodations
Natural cues are indicators within a task that lead the learner from point “A” to point “B.” They can be taught to but are not added or changed by the teacher. Let’s take a look at an example.
Jason works at a dental office where he fills goodie bags for patients leaving their appointments. The goodie bags must include one toothbrush, one floss dispenser, one toothpaste, and one Chapstick. Jason has difficulty remembering what needs to go in each bag and has accidentally placed duplicates in goodie bags in the past.
After observing for a few days, Jason’s job coach arranges the products from left to right, as shown below. In this way, the order of the products acted as a natural cue, which helped minimize Jason’s margin of error.
By contrast, reasonable accommodations are added to a job or used to modify a specific task to make it more accessible to the person with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations include creating accessible facilities, restructuring jobs, modifying work schedules, obtaining or modifying equipment, changing tests, training materials, or policies, and reassignment to a vacant position.
The Intersectionality of product design, task design, natural cues, and accommodations
How do product design, task design, natural cues, and accommodations intersect? Let’s take a look at one final example.
Sunny lives in a group home with her two roommates, Sue and Lisa. Both of Sunny’s roommates are employed and ride the bus to work. They leave the house at 7 am every Tuesday and Thursday to catch the 7:30 am bus. Sunny is very routine-oriented and likes to know what is happening at all times. On the days when she wakes up after her roommates have already left for the day, she gets agitated and often acts aggressively towards her caregiver.
After repeated incidences of aggression, Sunny’s caregiver comes up with a solution; she gives Sunny the job of waking up her roommates for work. Sunny takes her job very seriously. She purchases an alarm clock and sets the alarm for 5:55 am. The next day, Sunny wakes up first and proceeds to arouse both of her roommates by entering their bedrooms and turning on the light.
Now, Sunny eats breakfast with her roommates every Tuesday and Thursday and no longer gets upset when they leave for work.
Task: Wake up roommates for work
Accommodation: Alarm clock
Product design: Quality and functionality of alarm clock; ease of use
Natural cues: The sleeping roommates and dark bedrooms
Task Design: 1) Turn off the alarm clock; 2) get out of bed; 3) put on a robe; 4) walk down the hallway; 5) turn on first roommate’s bedroom light; 6) walk downstairs; 7) turn on second roommate’s bedroom light; 8) walk back upstairs.
Questions for Further Reflection
Consider the following when teaching a new task or skill:
- Does the task need to be completed within a specific timeframe?
- Does the order in which the task is completed affect the outcome?
- What is the margin for error? Is it okay to make mistakes?
Once the parameters have been set, ask yourself these questions:
- Can the task be redesigned to minimize errors? Would the placement of objects within the scheme increase accuracy?
- What natural cues can I teach to that would make the task easier to complete, i.e., feel more natural to the person completing the task?
- What aspects of the task are challenging to perform? Would an added accommodation make it easier to complete?
For more blog posts by SOAR Behavior Services, visit soarbehaviorwa.com/family-resources.