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 realised this was not a door and felt stupid.

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

My sister left her bank card in an ATM in Bali more times than is acceptable for an adult. For me this was part of her character until she explained how the ATM worked. After making your withdrawal it spat out the money before returning your card. This differs to what I'm used to, where the money comes after your card is returned. There is a problem with money coming out first. When your goal is to withdraw money, once the money comes out you've accomplished your task. Job done, let's go shopping.

This is bad user experience in the real world and it happens all the time but we don't think about it that way. We blame the user. We call them stupid (sorry Lou) and don't think about why it happened.

Why do we feel stupid?

We assume that things around us are well thought-out and created properly. We assume that other people don't have these problems and there's something wrong with us because we're the ones that are having trouble. Otherwise wouldn't it have been fixed or better yet, done properly in the first place?

Bad user experience online

Some time ago I logged onto my internet banking account. I needed to transfer money to a supplier. "Error, limit reached". Great, let's reduce the amount and make two transfers. "Error, limit reached". Great, what's my limit? Can I find this out without having a 20-minute conversation with customer service? No! I'll send a cheque instead.

Unfortunately, bad user experience exists more prevalently online. From simple websites with three popups and notifications appearing before you can visit the main content to infinite loops because password definitions don't match the prerequisites set by the website owner. Some are bigger offenders of making their users feel stupid, while others are simply frustrating.

Why does this happen?

Speaking from experience of building solutions and making certain errors in user experience, I can say that it happens because of the following:

  • A lack of understanding of the user. Therefore not anticipating how it will be used or what the purpose will be.
  • A lack of budget. Although this shouldn't be the case, it happens. When budgets are limited, the first thing that is usually scrapped is usability testing because most people don't notice it.
  • Lack of time. It takes long to analyse a design and review the usability errors that may be present. I know that our own website has plenty and we don't have time to fix them.
  • A "requirement" dictated by external sources who don't understand the necessity of good user experience.
  • Trends. Design trends are often beautiful. However, they aren't universally appropriate solutions. Being trendy often results in design implementation without a deeper understanding of how the website will be used.

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.

  • An understanding of who the user will be and the reasons why they will be using the website. Knowing the user helps you to anticipate how they are likely use the website and what expectations they have.
  • Taking your ego out of the design. Wanting to create something beautiful is natural for a web designer. No one wants to have their name on shitty design. It's also exciting to build something that will get you on Awwwards (goat gloat: we know, we've done it). But this could lead to the goal being misdirected and the end users suffering.
  • A care for the end result and its users. It's easy to detach yourself from the end user. Especially if it's a category that you don't fall into. We did work for a reusable feminine hygiene distributor, we definitely don't fit into that market. Being empathic to end users will help towards providing them with good experience.
  • Clear and honest communication with the client. I mention "clear and honest communication" quite often, maybe it's because of working with Paul Furey. Honesty is key when working with a client. It might be a radical thought, but there isn't always a secret agenda where each party is trying to screw over the other one to come out on top.

Hopefully we will start seeing more care being put into the design and build of websites and software. Hopefully it will spill over into the real world and I won't have to do the Cha-Cha slide when trying to leave a building.

Next time you're struggling to accomplish something online ask yourself "Am I the stupid one or is it this?"

What bad user experience have you had lately? Online or in the wild.