It’s easy to blame stupid users for poor design

19 Apr

Wrong Way

Having started as Junior User Experience Researcher at Experience Solutions, I have been introduced to the world of user experience. As I come from a predominantly graphic design and retail background, I thought it was safe to say that I knew a lot about user experience. I don’t.

During my interview, I was asked what really ‘pissed’ me off, a hard question to answer, especially when you are trying to deem what would be appropriate.  Stupidity was my quick response. In particular, those people who do not read signs and seemingly can’t use basic technology.

 

I witnessed the most stupid mistake

I then proceeded to give an example of a particularly memorable incident I witnessed on a self-service checkout when I worked in retail. I manning the self-service machine and monitoring the checkouts when a man came up to me and told me that the machine would not accept his money. I then discovered to my horror that this was in fact because he had tried to put the coins in the wrong place, the card holder.

This seemed at the time to be an almost unforgivable mistake. I now had a queue of people waiting and a kiosk out of use. In my mind, there was no way anyone could possibly think that the card machine was the right place to put coins in. It would never have even occurred to me as an error someone would make. However, clearly I was wrong. And to be fair to that particular man, unlike him, I had been trained on the machines, and was very comfortable with new technologies such as self-service checkout systems. Now I realise, this gentleman who was now feeling stupid and embarrassed was not to blame for doing what he thought was right.

 

This is where UX comes in

In the few days I have worked as part of the team at Experience Solutions, I have learned a great deal about the responsibilities of designers when designing for their users. It is important for companies to test design ideas on real people who can give you a true insight into how people with no previous knowledge of the service, or the idea behind it will interpret what they see. Or don’t see in some cases.

Thinking back on the self-service machines, and the particular instances that used to frustrate me, I now realise that there are in fact quite a few serious design flaws that usability testing would have solved before they were released into the marketplace. The misplacing of the payment area; so that it is above the packing station and not next to the touch screen, which of course, is the main focus for the customer. If this had been redesigned after testing then maybe the card machine would not have been mistaken for the coin slot.

The note dispenser being placed underneath the scanning bay too, led to hundreds of notes just being left there as the customer forgot to pick them up, or didn’t see that part of the change being returned. Yes, there is a sign. But when it is beneath the field of vision, and focus area, will you necessarily look for it when you are in a rush to get out of the way for other customers, the shop is heaving, kids are crying, and the dog needs to be let out at home?

 

A new perspective

In my short time in this UX role, I’ve realised that placing the blame on ‘stupid’ people isn’t fair and can distract away from the real issue. We should be looking to the manufacturers and designers, and asking them why they did not thoroughly test their products with people before launch. I know that in future I personally will not be so quick to judge a person’s intellect based on how they use something that I feel is easy to us.

I’ll be keeping you all updated with my progress as I learn the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of user experience.

 

 

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Samantha Harvey

About Samantha Harvey

Sam recently graduated from Visual Communication. She joined our team in April 2011 and has been conducting user research and has been making sure our user interfaces follow good design principles. She's keen to point out our poor selection of fonts... er I mean typography (sorry Sam). Follow Samantha on twitter @samharvey_ux

  • Rai Eastham

    Sam – Great first post, keep it up!

    I think the hardest thing about UX is accepting that it's not the People who are at fault, but as you rightly say, the designers of the products for thinking that they know best (when in real life, we come across all sorts of issues that a little bit of guerilla testing would have solved instantly)

    Like you I'm quite new to the field so I'll be interested in keeping up to date with how you feel about the subject!

  • emmabaines

    Fantastic post Sam. Very interesting read. I have to admit that I'm one of those foolish people who has walked away without my change in the past! I'm interested to see how self-service checkouts develop in the future as I think they have a long way to go to becoming the ideal form of payment for most.

  • samharvey

    Thank-you for the comment! Leaving your change when using those machines is easily done, as I said a lot of people do it. Let's hope the manufacturers cotton on to this, and improve the self-service machines so more people aren't short changed by accident!