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Purdue students help consumers pick the right products

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Students in a Purdue University industrial engineering course publish a new on-line newsletter that rates consumer products based on "human factors," or usability.

Unlike publications such as Consumer Reports, which focus on the quality of products, the Purdue newsletter, "Product GrA+des," rates a product on factors such as how long it takes to learn to use it and how easy it is to use. After modeling, testing and analyzing, students give different brands of the product a grade, A through F, on each factor.

The project began in 1994 as a printed newsletter, with each new class evaluating a different product each semester. The ratings for four products -- VCRs, telephone answering machines, electronic organizers and calculators -- are available on the Internet on the class's World Wide Web site at

Students now are analyzing treadmills, and the results should be posted by May.

Most consumer magazine analyses assume that one product, judged to be of highest quality, is best for everyone, says class instructor Ray Eberts, associate professor of industrial engineering.

"Paper-based magazines are limited in their interactivity, " Eberts says. "Computer-based magazines on the Internet do not have the same limitations. Product Grades is the first publication I know of that actually tailors recommendations to the needs of the individual reader."

Through an embedded computer program, visitors to the home page are asked simple questions about their usability needs. The program then determines which brand is best for that individual.

"For example, if you say that the most important features to you on a VCR are the amount of time it takes to program and how easy it is to set the clock, Product Grades will recommend the best brand for you," Eberts says.

CONTACT: Eberts, (765) 494-5429; Internet,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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