Doctoral student Sajna Ibrahim conducts experiments to judge consumers’ reactions to electronics such as MP3 players, digital cameras and cell phones. Ibrahim, whose research focuses on marketing and product design, says user interface design — or UID — influences how consumers feel about a product before, during and after purchase.
“Ranging from colorful buttons and pointers to touch screens and gestural feedback systems like the Wii, these user interfaces inform the way consumers learn and even ‘talk’ to a product,” she says.
Too many companies, she says, have marginalized product design. When it comes to marketing, most firms focus on form and function and may emphasize brand and price. But the consumer forms all kinds of perceptions about a product’s usability even before she ever picks it up. “User interface design is one of the key drivers of consumers’ purchase intentions and willingness to pay,” Ibrahim says. “I would like companies to build bridges between the marketing and design teams.”
Apple, creator of the iPhone, is an example of a company that understands the connection between user interface design and marketability, she notes. The cell phone industry at large, however, has a huge challenge when it comes to UID: Many phones are returned after purchase, and the majority of cases involve usability problems. The situation, called the “no fault found” phenomenon, offers a classic example of the way UID affects consumers and companies alike. “When a product is returned, it becomes a marketing problem,” she says.
Ibrahim studied electronics and communications as an undergraduate in India and completed an MBA in international marketing. She worked for an engineering design services firm for eight years before returning to school for a doctorate. Now she uses specialized software to make 3D models of product concepts for use in her experiments. She’d eventually like to expand her research to include automotive UID and also take a look at the way user interfaces influence the way people interact through social networks.
Manoj Agarwal, professor of marketing at Binghamton, says Ibrahim is exceptionally self-directed. “I can talk to her at a high conceptual level,” he says. “She also pushes me a lot, which is good. She’s full of ideas.”
Agarwal says Ibrahim has been able to integrate ideas from numerous disciplines in her work, including engineering, marketing and even organizational behavior and leadership. He believes that understanding UID will be increasingly vital in the next few years, as information and entertainment move to cloud-based systems and touch screens become more prevalent.
Ibrahim, who hopes to pursue an academic career after she earns her doctorate, says her work is driven by what she sees in the marketplace. “This is something you can see and feel in your daily life,” she says. “It’s important that these ideas should reach consumers as well as researchers.”