Models for customer and consumer behaviour

The first article that I ever read about OR carried the title "Models for thinking with".  It mentioned optimisation, and analysis, but concentrated on the essence of creating a model (mathematical or otherwise) of an enterprise, where decisions had to be made.  This affects design and both OR people and engineers need their models for thinking with.  Experience changes designs, and evidence feeds into the models that are used.  Some early motor-cars had their rear doors hinged at the rear.  If the door opened while the car was moving, then the door would swing open, giving no protection for the rear-seat passenger.  One picture of these that I saw recently labelled them "Suicide doors".  A popular British car of the 1960s had door handles which pointed forwards - there were accidents where these gouged the flesh of pedestrians.  In each case, there had been unforeseen situations in the models used for the design.  Early ATM machines gave customers their cash before returning the debit card - and numerous cards were left in the machines as a consequence. 

Purchasing new household equipment exposes people to changes in routine.  Other writers have commented on the difficulties of changing to a new model of a mobile phone, a DVD recorder, or other electronic item.  Purchasers change these at comparatively long intervals, during which time the manufacturers make steady changes and introduce new features.  What should be in the instruction manual (which was probably written by someone who is familiar with the immediately preceding model!)?

We have just bought a new upright freezer; the problem is that our behaviour (lifestyle) has been developed with the old one.  The new one has drawers and no shelves.  We have grown used to freezing food on a shelf, and, once frozen, either moving it  to a drawer, or to one side of the shelf to make room for further food to be frozen.  So we shall have to start freezing food in the spacious fast freeze drawer.  But that is going to mean
either (a) reserving that drawer for fast freezing (wasted space at other times)
or (b) rearranging items in the fast freeze drawer so that items we put in are not in contact with frozen food (inconvenient because it is so deep)

In due time we will adapt our lifestyle - but the model used by the designer for human behaviour with their freezer didn't include the way we use ours.

We have had to adapt our behaviour to the model used by the oven timer on our cooker.  A long time ago, the earliest cooker timers in the UK allowed you to set the start time and the finish time.  The next generation allowed you to set the start time and the duration of the oven being on.  Both of these needed a simple operation to keep the oven on for a while longer.  Our current model asks for the duration and the time to switch off.  Extending the cooking time requires reprogramming the timer, or switching it to manual.  You can see the reasoning in the designer's model for the use of a timer on an oven.  The oven is being used to prepare a meal, so you set the time of the meal and then the cooking time.  How reasonable!  But, that model presupposes that the oven is being set for one item.  What about the person who wants to cook a joint and to add a hot pudding to the oven before the joint is cooked?  What time should you programme to finish, and how long for?  That behaviour wasn't in the mind of the designer.

All of these are reminders that when we use models for thinking with, we must think of as many aspects of the situation as possible, and not assume that everyone behaves in the same way.


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