I’m writing this post is response to a prompt I found on the Toptal Freelance Interactive Designers Group website. They ask me to talk in a general way about I want to bring to UX. In short, it’s one of my goals to stamp out bad UX everywhere I find. My goal is to increase empathy and help people solve problems through better design. Bad UX is not limited to terrible apps and crummy websites. It exists everywhere. Take this, for example:
Last Tuesday I got back from a trip to Seattle (where I was attending the Nielsen Norman Group UX training, which I may cover in another post) and we decided to celebrate by going out for burgers. We went the Starlite, a no-frills burger place that’s been run by the same family since the 1950s. The burgers are huge and inexpensive, taste great and are always the same. They arrive wrapped in customary white waxed paper and are served ála carte, fries and onion rings sold separately. It’s an absolutely consistent experience, and as a result the place is packed every night.
In the same parking lot is a Dairy Queen of about the same vintage. The establishment complies with the franchise’s expectations. Blizzards are served upside down or the next one is free, etc. They do a good business despite the fact that Cedar Rapids has a disproportionate amount of Dairy Queens for a city its size. I think we have about one per square mile, but I might be mistaken.
And as it always has been at Dairy Queen, the staff is comprised exclusively of teenagers, which brings me to my point.
Last night after our grease-fest of a dinner we walked across the lot to the DQ and got ice cream. My wife and I, both full as ticks in summertime, each ordered a small dipped cone. We were served gleaming towers of candy-coated soft serve, ten ounces at least, bulging over the sides of the cone like John Goodman in a t-shirt.
It was way more than we wanted or needed; we ordered smalls because we wanted smalls.
Why were the cones so big? I have a theory, and (as always with me) it is a UX theory. See, the guy who served us was a teenager. In his world. the only possible reason you would get a small cone is that you can’t afford a big one. He thought he was doing us a favor, even winking at me as he handed the teetering confections through the service window. “Here are your smalls, sir.”
You see, he superimposed his experience on ours. His world was all he thought about as he piled a pound or so of ice cream onto the tiny cones. With every good intention he harmed the business (infinitesimally) by wasting product and, especially, by not giving us what we wanted.
Of course, I didn’t call the manager and threaten them with legal action, nor did I organize a group of picketers to yell obscenities at their customers. In fact, I dutifully ate the entire cone, but I regretted it. I don’t need any help gaining weight these days. Will I be back to Dairy Queen? Will I be back to that Dairy Queen? Probably. This isn’t an actual problem, only a hypothetical.
This is the conundrum in design: we start by designing for ourselves, creating something that pleases us. How many times as I designer did I sit in meetings with a client only to watch them choose the comp I threw in at the last moment instead of the one I toiled over? Countless. But at a certain point, I came to the tremendous realization that I was often wrong. What I like is not necessarily what the user will like. This is why UX research is so important. In order to design from the outside in, I need to understand the user and what they are trying to do. If you add mobile into the sauce, I also need to know where they are trying to do it.
For example, a public transit website could benefit greatly by having its mobile version prioritize the top question one might have while at a bus stop:
-When is the bus getting here?
-When will it arrive at the destination?
-How do I get a bus pass?
And so forth. This added dimension of empathy can lead to some surprising solutions, especially if a top-notch developer is roped into the prototyping process.
The best thing about the global campaign to eliminate bad UX is the amazing opportunities that you come across in day-to-day life.