A User Experience in Budapest

Our interaction with computers is rapidly changing as new devices, online applications, and operating systems continue to compete for a place in our daily routine. It is the role of a user experience designer to detect errors, ease the learning curve, and make these new interactions seem effortless and welcomed.

While attending lectures on interaction design and reading articles on user experience, the subject often sheds light on the frustration of its professionals towards the industry’s slow acceptance of user experience design. This is in part due to the profession still being quite young. To help educate the industry on what a user experience designer does, a wealth of videos, books, slide decks, and articles have been created. Many use every day events to help illustrate what user experience is and how important it is to study it, detect the problem, hypothesis a solution, prototype and test it. Because I believe this is the best way to present new information in an entertaining way, I’m going to use my own experience as an example.

Last August, I had the privilege of traveling around eastern Europe with my husband. I was fascinated with signage systems and how each city handled communicating to such an international crowd. I kept anticipating communication break downs or mishaps during the use of different transit systems. It didn’t happen. The only frustration and complete confusion I experienced occurred in the simplest of places — the change room at the Széchenyi Fürdo in Budapest.

The grand mineral pool in the city’s main park is a paradise. It is like swimming in the courtyard of a palace. Getting into it is something else. Once paying your admission you enter a room full of changing stalls. All the wooden doors were closed so like a good patron I waited patiently. None opened. Eventually, I tried turning the knobs of some of the doors and finally got into one only to find another wooden door on the far side of the stall. No locks were on the doors. I recalled being given instructions to exit the stall through the far door where I would then find a locker to store my belongings in, but this was the only place to get changed into swim wear. No ladies room here. Annoyed but determined, I put a hand on one door and a foot on the other and somehow managed to get changed without someone walking in on me. I pulled open the far door of the stall, entered the locker room, and then exited into the wonderful steaming mineral pools.

After my fill of whirl pools, fountains, water jets, and steaming baths, I returned to the locker area. Then, the stalls. Once the door closed behind me I thought “this can’t be right — what am I doing wrong?”. And then it occurred to me that both doors swung into the stall (you enter a room by turning a handle and pushing forward and the reverse when leaving). Then I saw it. Neatly camouflaged against the wall of the stall was a piece of wood with a hinge on it. I pulled it towards me and it fell to a position just long enough to overlap the doors. If someone tried to get in, the bench would barricade the door from opening. Filled with a bit of glee, I got changed and made my way out just in time to hear a woman in the stall next to me say “Qu’est que c’est?”.

Clever right? An intuitive and effortless experience, no. This is an example of a poor user experience. What we can learn from it is this.

1. Highly repetitive actions become invisible (e.g. we turn a handle clockwise and push forward to enter a room without thinking about it). When building a website, keep highly used elements simple and in expected locations. A previous entry on log in buttons is another example of this.

2. When expectations are not met, problem solving begins (e.g. I expected to find a locking device on the door). This can increase the amount of time a user spends on a page, misleading the information analytics capture. Instead of thinking a page is popular because users spend most of their time on it, consider it could actually mean it’s a problem page because users are spending their time processing an error. Eye tracking tests can help diagnose this.

3. When there is no aid to assist in our problem solving, we turn to our own past experiences (e.g. I’ve been in a room with no lock before and have used my foot to hold the door closed). This is how we learn. When a person is confronted with a new situation, they compare it to previous experiences and build on it. It is why analogies and metaphors can be so powerful.

4. When a conclusion is settled on, don’t assume the user will be satisfied (e.g. I was damn determined to figure it out). Test, test, test. The user may have figured out how something works, but it doesn’t mean they’ll remember it the next time they visit the site.

5. Reward the user by listening to feedback and responding (e.g. if you’re ever in Budapest changing room, look for the folding bench).

More reading:

Design and Design Failures

10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design

Designing for the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered Products and Services

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