Don't make your users feel stupid, stupid

Walking out of a Costa Coffee, I stood in front of a glass door, waiting for it to automatically slide open. I waved my hands. I shimmied to the left. I shimmied to the right. I finally realised that this was not a door.

This happens all too often in the real world and we blame ourselves.

During my sister's few years of living in Bali she left her bank card in an ATM more times than is acceptable for an adult. When she told me the stories I jotted it down to her character until she explained the reason as to why this kept on happening. When withdrawing money from the ATM it would spit out the money before returning the card. This causes a problem.

Your goal when visiting an ATM is to withdraw money. Once you receive the money, you have achieved your goal, job done, let's go shopping. Until you realise that your card is still inside waiting to be returned.

This is bad user experience and it happens all the time. We just don't think of it that way and blame the user. We call them stupid (sorry Lou) and ignore the cause of the problem, in this case an incorrect order of events.

Now, when talking about user experience most people think about a digital interface. With the proliferation of templated websites, build-it-yourself tools, and quick turnaround projects, the online landscape has become full of these non-sliding doors and incorrectly ordered ATMs and we're made to feel stupid every day.

Why do we feel stupid?

When we have trouble trying to accomplish something as simple as transferring money from one bank account to another we believe that we're the only one struggling with the task. It's a simple request, it surely can't be complex, which means I am incapable of figuring it out myself. If it were complex, wouldn't someone have noticed and the problem be fixed? Therefore, I am stupid.

We are too often being made to feel stupid and that's not cool.

Why does this happen?

I'm also at fault here. I've been a part of building such offending products and I know that there are many reasons why this could happen.

  • A lack of understanding of the user. Sometimes, due to lack of research, there are incorrect assumptions on who the users are, how they will use the product, or what they would want to achieve from it.
  • A lack of budget. Although this shouldn't be the case, it happens all the time. When budgets are limited, the first thing to be cut is research and optimisation. This is due to them rarely being seen as valuable by the client.
  • A lack of time. This usually comes as a result of lack of budget. It takes a substantial amount of time to conduct enough research and testing. With limited time comes restrictions on what can be done.
  • Stakeholder decisions. The people paying for the work are usually not the end users. This detaches them from the needs of their customers and they sometimes don't take into account the overall impact this may cause.
  • Following trends. Designers spend hours crafting beautiful designs to post on showcase platforms such as Awwwards, Dribbble, and Behance. When viewing these designs it's easy to be pulled in to their beauty and not consider the usability of it. These designers care about aesthetics, and although this is also important, it should not overshadow the usability of a product.

How to ensure good user experience

The internet is full of articles touting advice for good UX practices. These are great. But there isn't a set of rules that, if followed correctly, result in good user experience.

With that being said, here is a set of rules that, if followed correctly, result in good user experience.

  • Understand the user. Knowing the end user and what they want to gain from your product or website is essential. A truly useful product can't be made without knowing who will use it.
  • Remove your ego. Wanting to create something beautiful is natural. No one wants to have their name on, what they perceive to be, a shitty design. It's also exciting to build something that will end up on award websites. But this could lead to the goal being misdirected and the end user suffering.
  • Care about the user. It's easy to detach yourself from the end user. Especially if you don't fall into that category. We've worked for a reusable feminine hygiene product distributor and we definitely don't land anywhere close to the target audience. Being empathic to the end user will help towards providing them with a good experience.
  • Be honest. It's important to have clear and honest communication with the client. Honesty is key when working with anyone. Too often do I see people believe that there is a secret agenda to screw them over. But honesty, although sometimes uncomfortable, is key.

Hopefully we will start seeing more care being put into the design and build of products. Hopefully it will spill over into the real world and I won't have to do the Cha-Cha slide when trying to leave buildings. And next time you're struggling with a product or digital service ask yourself "Am I the stupid one or is it this?"