Many people may recall the printer-smashing scene from the movie “Office Space” in which workers take out their frustrations on their print device. They are sick of their jobs, but they are also irritated by the printer’s frequent error messages and paper jams.

Unfortunately, many people have had poor experiences with printers—whether at home or in the office. The good news is that print devices don’t have to be hard to use. Many of today’s products have been designed with usability in mind, even machines full of features and capabilities.

This post will discuss ways in which these devices have become simpler to operate, as well as provide statistics on the importance of ease of use for companies.

Importance of ease of use

U.S. companies with fewer than 50 employees say ease of use is a top criterion for selecting a product or vendor for their organization (54%); it is only second in importance to price (58%). Factors like service and support, software compatibility and integration, security capabilities, professional services capabilities, reputation of the supplier, sales knowledge, and brand are significantly less top-of-mind for these small companies.

While larger companies rank ease of use somewhat lower (about 35% consider it a top criterion for product/vendor selection), it still tends to fall ahead of security capabilities, professional services capabilities, reputation of the supplier, sales knowledge, and brand. While larger organizations are more likely to have in-house IT staff that can help them navigate through usability issues, encountering these problems in the first place can harm productivity.

User-friendly printer features

User-friendly printers often have an easy-to-use control panel and/or touchscreen, productivity apps, software utilities, maintenance capabilities, and interactive help.

Control panel: Much day-to-day interaction with a printer or multifunction printer (MFP) happens at a PC workstation, and is accomplished through the print driver and software utilities. But a fair amount of operations beyond straight printing, such as scanning, copying, and faxing, take place through the device’s control panel and/or touchscreen.

From an ease-of-use standpoint, the icons should be clearly marked as well as organized so that the most commonly used functions are at the top levels of the device’s menu system. In addition, having multiple printers from the same brand can simplify the control panel experience.

Productivity apps: Many print devices now support apps. They either come pre-installed on the device, or can be downloaded by the customer or a third party. These apps, which are initiated by a simple touch on the control panel screen, are designed to perform complex operations with a single or minimal number of key presses.

While the number and types of apps available vary from vendor to vendor, some of the more commonly found apps are focused on areas like page and cost accounting, document management and scanned file routing, and information access. When apps are designed and implemented correctly, they can greatly enhance the ease of using the device as well as the particular application or function they are designed to access.

Software utilities: Another important area of ease of use is the software utilities that accompany the device, including the print driver, fax driver, and any scan and/or optical character recognition (OCR) software. Many print drivers and associated utilities allow users to define the common settings that apply to their specific use of the device—helping improve their experience.

Maintenance capabilities: The ease of maintaining the printer is also important. For example, are the supplies easy to install/add? How difficult is it to fix a paper jam? Users should not have to struggle to perform these tasks. Some vendors place maintenance directions right in the area where the particular maintenance operation takes place, while others will detail the maintenance/replacement process on the control panel with a series of instruction screens (or a video may be available).

Detailed error and update messages also improve ease of use. For instance, a message that states “The fuser needs to be replaced” is much more helpful than one that states “Error E331.” Furthermore, a troubleshooting utility can be beneficial.

Interactive help: Interactive help lets workers access context-sensitive help on how to use a specific feature or function through the touch of a button or icon. MFPs with Internet connectivity can potentially direct users to online help, while other devices have more limited help built in.

Download this free white paper to learn about key areas of ease of use that companies should consider when making a print device purchase decision.

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