Surrounded by UX problems…

Today, I had a meeting in a coffee shop in central London – fairly typical for me. It wasn’t the meeting, but my experience that inspired me to draft this post. The coffee shop will remain unnamed…

The coffee shop was within a large new multi-story development taking up two units and as a result had two doors from the street. The door closest the to main road was not only a Norman door but it was locked… Here we come to problem number one. Not only did I not know whether to push or pull to gain entry, but in trying both actions I got frustrated with my inability to gain entry. Had I not had a meeting arranged inside, I would probably have gone to the coffee place next door, that aloud easier access.

After discovering the second door and navigating my way through it, I came across a stand asking me to push a button, take a ticket, browse the options and order my selection when the number on my ticket was called.

Nice idea, but in practice not so great…I took my ticket as instructed, had a browse of the sandwiches and cakes and waited for my number to be called. It wasn’t, the customers in the shop had created a process of their own, a more traditional one. One that we see in bars and pubs across the world, standing at the counter and catching the eye of the people that worked there. It wasn’t just the customers, the staff too were obeying the traditional habit and rewarding those that ignored the ticketing system with faster service.

The owners of the coffee shop had most likley spent a lot of time and money, creating a path or process that they wanted their customer to experience, but they’d forgotten one very important part of the User Experience process, the user. And, the conditioning that leads them to display repetitive learned behaviours much like that seen today – standing at the counter and waiting to catch the servers eye.

So what could they have done differently to improve the customer experience today?

Don’t stray too far from embedded behaviours and routine…

…and if you do, be sure they get hooked.

The majority of our behaviours are completed within this cycle, we receive a cue (an event or feeling that suggests we need to perform an action) then comes the routine (the doing of the action) and then our reward for completing that action. If a process is created that stray too far from to usual routine (or action) then it may be more challenging for your user to gain their reward…meaning they are less likely to repeat the action on their next cue. With this in mind, you can take one of two routes, ensure your happy path does not stray from the old habits of your users, or make the new habit so good and rewarding that they’ll change their routine for good (check out Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, Nir Eyal for tactics).

Build your happy path through user research and engagement.

As we’ve already explored, we humans like habit and routine… and if you’ve decided not to follow the tactics laid out in Hooked (you may need to ask some moral questions to employ some of these) you’ll want to ensure that the happy path you’ve laid out is one that many follow habitually. Ask questions, watch the routine and habit in natural environments, ask about the last time they did this… and you’ll have plenty of knowledge to ensure (if used right) that you become their routine.

Adopt signifiers.

Signifiers, and signs are a great way to help your customer get back on track. A simple Push sign on the door, or a note to ask me to use the other door would have alleviated all the frustration of looking to gain entry to the coffee shop in the first instance.

Don’t fear a well constructed error message…

(And remember, errors exist in the physical world too.) Most of us will be are fairly familiar with the term ‘error message‘ in the context of our digital lives… we try to perform an action (or do something) and a short message pops up to tell us we can’t do it this way, and the best ones give us guidance to how we can do it.

Many of us forget that we can use error messages, in the real world too. Returning to the coffee shop for a moment, if the staff had not rewarded the habitual display of catching the eye for service and politely redirected to the ticketing system the customer would have been right back on the ‘happy path’.

As I continue to delve further into the world of User Experience and Everyday Design, I am sure more posts like these will be inspired…. till next time x