Inventing 101: A lesson in usability and functionality

Inventing 101: A lesson in usability and functionality

While many inventions we see each day cause us to ask “Why didn’t I think of that,”¬†there are some product ideas, like the ones listed below (courtesy of that just beg the question, “Why?

A submarine with a screen door.

A water-proof towel.

Solar powered flashlight.

Inflatable dart board.

Dictionary Index.

Waterproof tea-bag.

Chocolate Tea-Pot

Or these designs by artist/designer, Katerina Kamprani, who “reverse-designed” these products (these were done as art):

ironic inventions

Now, as much as we’d all like a good reverse Oreo now and then, let’s get down to business because we’re talking about functionality and usability.

While ideas may be declined for a variety of reasons, we often receive feedback from potential licensing partners indicating:

The product will not work as described.


While it may work as illustrated, this product is not user-friendly.

How can you avoid these pitfalls? Let’s dive in and start with the basics…how are these terms defined?

According to Merriam-Webster, functionality is defined as:

  • The quality of having a practical use
  • The particular use or set of uses for which something is designed

So, you’ve identified a pain point and you’ve had a “BING!” moment. You’ve got the coolest design EVER in your head. Before you submit it to Edison Nation, ask yourself:


The Edison Nation Review Team may think your idea for a flying car is awesome, but before it’s pitched to possible car companies, we need to be clear on it’s functionality. Now, we do not expect you to be an engineer or consult with one, but we do require a clear description of how your idea works so we can accurately pitch it to potential partners. Remember, form does not always equal function.

As “functionality” is purely concerned with the functions and features of the product, it should not be confused with “usability” – whether users are able to use the product or not. Increased functionality does not mean improved usability!

That being said, let’s dive into Usability:

According to 

Usability means making products and systems easier to use, and matching them more closely to user needs and requirements.

Usability is about:

  • Effectiveness – can users complete tasks, achieve goals with the product, i.e. do what they want to do?
  • Efficiency – how much effort do users require to do this? (Often measured in time)
  • Satisfaction – what do users think about the products ease of use?

which are affected by:

  • The users – who is using the product? e.g. are they highly trained and experienced users, or novices?
  • Their goals – what are the users trying to do with the product – does it support what they want to do with it?
  • The usage situation (or ‘context of use’) – where and how is the product being used?

In consumer products, usability testing is often conducted during product design and after the product is completed but before it hits store shelves.

Usability testing is a technique used to evaluate a product by testing it on users. This can be seen as an irreplaceable practice, since it gives direct input on how real users use the product. Usability testing focuses on measuring a product’s capacity to meet its intended purpose. Setting up a usability test involves carefully creating a scenario, or realistic situation, where a potential consumer performs a list of tasks using the product being tested while observers watch and take notes. Results from these tests are used to make additional improvements on the product to ensure the consumer will have the best overall experience with the product.

usability testing

Image courtesy of:

Examples of products that commonly benefit from usability testing are foods, consumer products, websites or web applications, computer interfaces, documents, and devices. Usability testing measures the usability, or ease of use, of a specific object or set of objects.


Back to your idea…once you know your idea will work, as yourself if it will be easy for a new user to learn and use. Again, not asking you as innovators to conduct usability testing for your idea, but to take these factors into consideration during your design to avoid ideas like this?


Hope this information has been helpful to you and we look forward to reviewing more of your fabulously functional, uniquely usable ideas soon!

Happy Inventing!

Have you ever thought, “wouldn’t it be cool if?”

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