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UX IN THE REAL WORLD

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User Experience (and Customer Experience) has become so adopted by marketers that it's moved from buzzword to best practice in only a few years. The term itself has been around since the mid-90s, popularised by software design guru Don Norman when he joined Apple and his job title became the first ever to include 'user experience'.

User experience is traditionally evaluated on three primary factors: efficiency, effectiveness and satisfaction. Was it easy? Did it work? Was it better?

Today, the term has coverage far beyond human-computer interactions to nearly all other areas of human activity – call centre scripts, product design, magazine publishing, shopfitting, brand activations and real-world events – so that UX now takes human behaviour, usage context and the user’s feelings into consideration.

But despite the intense focus on UX/CX (and the billions of dollars spent on it by brands), we are surrounded by so much poor UX that it seems likely that most organisations don’t really know human behaviour at all. Or basic physics, sometimes. Are we spending so much time in meetings to discuss the user experience of a website selling our widget that we haven’t noticed that our widget has terrible UX in the first place?

For example, I once worked in an agency where the meeting rooms were fitted with energy-saving air conditioning that required you to press and hold a button until a little LED shines to let you know the AC has kicked in. However, the LED was located in the middle of the button – right where you are required to place your finger. While it was amusing to watch people press and release over and over to see if the light had lit, each time increasing the length of their press, it was simply poor product design. Which means poor UX.

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This ought to have been obvious to the manufacturer. The usage of the switch is defined, so the outcome can be predicted.

The same goes for whoever decided to write ‘PUSH’ on a glass door. The human brain is capable of instantly recognising common words even when written backwards, which means 50 per cent of people using these doors will find the door doesn’t budge and their nose slams into the glass.

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Human behaviour can be harder to predict as the intended usage gets more complex, but there are still habitual behaviours that are practically guaranteed, like when queuing.

Have you ever noticed how humans instinctively form a line directly out from the person or device for which they’re queuing? And yet, we still design supermarket checkouts, bank tellers, ATMs, post offices, reception desks, train stations, dumpling bars, and other expected queue spaces so that the human centipede will block an entrance or walkway. 

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The other human factor in the UX of queue design is the speed of service. A snaking maze of ropes makes perfect sense to force many customers into a single queue, but it fails to work when corralling many people into a single queue only to split them out again at the end and divide them across multiple service points – like at a bank, taxi stand, or passport control at an airport.

Each teller operates at a different speed, made more complicated by the varying speeds of the customers and the complexity of their transactions. So, after you’ve crawled around the maze and are finally about to get your cheese, you find yourself directed into one of many smaller individual queues where you're suddenly held up by either a slow customer struggling to count their pennies, or a slow operator fumbling with paperwork. Meanwhile, the other short queues are whipping through and you're watching customers who most definitely arrived after you now leave well ahead of you.

In this instance, it makes more sense to keep everyone in the one long queue and whichever teller becomes available next shouts 'Next!'

It’s not just human behaviour that can be predicted. Physics is universal. Especially gravity. So, why would anyone design a supermarket carpark on a sloping piece of land where shoppers place their first few bags in their car and turn to grab the next handful only to see their trolley headed for the exit ramp, child still strapped in the seat. “Wheeee, daddy!”

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LAX international airport actually has a business-class baggage scanning area on a sloped walkway that makes you run a mind-boggling gauntlet to dodge the escaping wheelie bags rolling down the slope toward you like some real-life Donkey Kong as you try to make it to the scanner, only to have your own bag roll away while you’re busy removing belt, shoes, phone, keys, and your dignity.

What about the restaurateur who paid good money for UX on their website to draw you into their fine establishment, but furnished their restaurant with four-legged tables that wobble like my auntie after a couple of gins? Three-legged tables simply cannot wobble. That’s the immutable laws of physics and geometry combined.

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Who makes drinking straws that are shorter than the average Coke bottle? 

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Why would Maggi make meal sauces with a ‘tear here’ corner strategically placed so you also tear off half the instructions on the other side? 

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Kikkoman produces tiny sachets of soy sauce that are filled to bursting when you’re wearing a white shirt. Bosch's tumble dryer door is hinged on the left while the door of their front-loading washer is hinged on the right.

Sure, some of these are insignificant. First-world problems at best. But it highlights the imperfect world in which we live – an imperfect world created by brands and organsations that fixate on digital UX when they haven’t yet mastered positive user experience in the real world.

According to Deloitte research, the most trusted sources of information on products and services are family and friends, customer reviews and independent experts – not info from the brand. Although we probably didn’t need research to tell us that.

In fact, each of these sources is seen as up to five times more valuable than info from the brand. Combined, it means consumers are 14 times more likely to find out about your product or service from anyone but you. And they’re only asking people who have actually used the product or service, not people who just checked out the website. It no longer matters how good your marketing efforts are if your product or service is only getting one or two stars.

As the Deloitte report highlights, “there is a growing gap between consumer expectations of products and services and the ability of businesses to meet them.”

I thought it was Bernbach who quipped, “I’d rather write a bad ad for a good product than write a good ad for a bad product”, or something like that. But the Googles shed no light on the origin of this adland parable, so I’ll resort to closing with someone who often pops up in my articles:

      “Give them quality.
       That’s the best kind of advertising.”
                            – Milton Hershey

 

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