User Experience – from toilets to taps
A walk through everyday life
User Experience. It’s a term thrown around like confetti at the moment. It’s hard to escape if you are developing a digital product. Everyone you come into contact with, from project managers to designers, developers, strategists and directors will tell you about the importance of User Experience (or UX for short).
If you are not already familiar with the term, this is how the Nielson Norman Group, a leading UX consultancy, describe it
“User Experience” encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”
What is interesting is that this does not specifically refer to DIGITAL products. As a UX designer I look at everyday life through a UX prism. Simple questions we all ask are, in reality, all elements of a User Experience – your personal, every day user experience journey. Why do those icons on the microwave make no sense? Why is the TV remote control like the cockpit of a jet fighter? Notably, the Apple TV remote is the antithesis of these. More on Apple later though.
A personal bug bear of mine is the touch screen interface inside a car? What good is a touch screen you can’t look at? It looks great but is almost impossible to use in a practical, day to day, situation.
With that in mind, here are some other great, and not so great, examples of every day user experience issues and/or solutions.
Toilet Target Practice
Anybody can tell you that men can sometimes lack a certain… precision in the toilet department. That sense of unpleasant resignation is multiplied when you come face to face with another chaps attempt to re-enact Ghostbusters in the only spare urinal.
In the 1990s, Aad Kieboom came up with a solution at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, and it is simple as it is ingenious – he put a small image of a fly INSIDE the urinal.
‘Guys are simple-minded and love to play with their urine stream, so you put something in the toilet bowl and they’ll aim at that,’ says Reichardt.
Although there are no hard statistics on the reduction in cleaning required using this trick, some estimates claim it reduced spillage by up to 80%.
Why does this apply to UX? At it’s heart, User Experience is about understanding your users and what their goal is. The guy that is urinating on the fly feels like he has achieved a secondary goal (target practice; the primary goal being to relieve himself!) whilst the following customer of the urinal gets a much cleaner, pleasing experience. As an added bonus, cleaning costs are reduced so the key stake holder (the airport paying the bills) is happy too. Everyone is happy. High fives all round.
This is great UX top to bottom – a problem analysed, solved, and with clear, measurable improvements.
Oh no, I need a parking ticket…
Ah, parking ticket machines! We’ve all had to look at them and wonder what on earth we are meant to be pressing. By now I expect you are thinking about that machine from last Saturday with the big green button and instructions that could have been written by Donald Duck.
My personal favourites are the ones with letter keys top to bottom.
A well known UX consultant called Steve Krug wrote a book in 2005 titled “Don’t Make Me Think.” This is perfect for this type of interface.
As UX designers we know all cultures read from the top down, and most read from left to right. Some might say this is common sense… we are all pretty experienced in this; we’ve been doing it our whole lives.
The obvious failure here is that this interface clearly has not been tested with people who would use the machine. Forcing a user to interact with a design pattern outside of our everyday experience (reading downwards) puts a strong “cognitive load” on the user that does not produce a positive result: frustration and irritation. Sure, we may all eventually get a ticket out of the machine, but it will only induce a sense of “oh no” next time. If this were your website or product, where a someone can click away to a competitor in a fraction of a second, the user could very well decide that coming back is more hassle than your product is worth.
The take away here is that showing a little UX consideration can significantly improve the users experience – and result in a return visit. And while we are on this point, Forester Research shows that, on average, every dollar invested in UX brings 100 dollars in return. The results can be pretty stark.
“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.”
This brings us full circle. Taps. But not your bathroom taps. Interface taps.
We tap and swipe our smart phones all the time. What once seemed like a foreign concept is now as normal as putting the kettle on.
Much of this can be traced back to the iPhone. Sure, there were similar devices before the iPhone but none genuinely revolutionised the technology industry, created the world’s biggest company and changed the very way we interact with the world around us. That’s pretty fundamental.
With the iPhone’s 10th birthday, and the release of the iPhoneX there has been quite a bit of chatter about whether this new iteration of the iPhone is again revolutionising how we interact with our screens, or moving us backwards to a time before there was an appreciation of how a user interacts with a product.
It is commonly held that the iPhone interface was so easy to understand that anyone could pick it up and understand it with a little patience. As time has gone by, more gestures, taps and swipes have been added that has led to this:
Source: https://www.fastcodesign.com/90150025/the-iphone-x-is-a-user-experience-nightmare – http://www.joannastern.com/
“If the iPhone X’s hardware features are the epitome of fluff over function, its new navigation gestures are the epitome of needless complexity over intuition.” (source: http://www.creativebloq.com/web-design/ux-design-patterns-work-91516961)
Time will tell if this is a User Experience disaster, as some are saying, or an inevitable step forward.
The challenges of creating complex interfaces or products that appear visually simple, engaging and enjoyable to use, is something that even companies with the stature of Apple can struggle with. Even though the simplest solution is not always the most attractive, sometimes it can be the most effective. Just don’t get me started on the impracticality of my car’s touch screen user interface.
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