I started my morning just like any other; I woke up, did my morning routine, and had quality family bonding time discussing the topic of German luxury cars at the breakfast table. As my family was swooning over the styling and engineering of German automobiles, I couldn’t help but think of how incredibly annoying our family’s car is to drive.
I should probably start by thanking UX, or perhaps blaming UX. Indeed, since I entered this field, I find myself thinking differently about the products I interact with daily. For example, my phone used to be a source of entertainment; now I find myself downloading and deleting apps frequently, wondering what could have lead to the creation of such an incredibly un-user-friendly app.
So thank you UX, but let me get back to the annoyance the family car brings me daily:
When we first got the car, I was eager to try out all of the features; mainly the fact that it did so many mundane tasks automatically. Like many cars now, it would automatically turn on the headlights when it got dark and automatically turn on the windshield-wipers (and adjust the speed) when it would rain. Soon, I discovered that these “nifty” features would also cause the wipers and headlights to automatically turn off when I didn’t want it to; essentially overriding what I told the car to do. In this case, my windshield was fogging up on the outside; something that the sensors apparently don’t pick up.
A friend then told me that the automatic features could be disabled, but was unable to tell me how. Great, now I needed to go through the manual to figure out how to do this. The problem with that was that I don’t care enough to look into it. It wasn’t a common issue, so although it was annoying when it happened, it wasn’t worth the effort.
Recently, I encountered another problem. The car started beeping, all the time, for no apparent reason. I thought maybe the car had sensors, but there was no one at risk, no dangers near by, it just beeped all the time. Now perhaps there is something seriously wrong and the car is warning me of some future detriment coming my way. But, no warnings would appear on the main dash, as they usually do, so I didn’t know what the problem was or how to fix it. The beeping was obnoxious, so this time I decided that couldn’t drive the car again until the problem was solved. Reluctantly, I looked in the manual, hoping that I could somehow figure out what section of it discussed the mysterious beeping.
It turns out my car has sensors that detect and warn you not only about nearby dangers, but how far away you should stop from a light. I found the beeping obnoxious, but apparently, it is a safety feature, and for some reason my car suddenly decided that it would automatically turn it on.
This issue has given me three points to think about in my own work:
First, users like me do not want to troubleshoot their devices. If I am looking at the manual, I am already annoyed with the product and if I don’t find what I am looking for, then I will seriously consider getting rid of it.
Second, if a feature is added, especially an automatic one, you should consider how it will work in nearly every scenario, otherwise it may do more harm than good. In the case of the windshield wipers, I never got annoyed when it was manual. I knew how to make it do what I needed. Once it is automatic, it saves me the effort of doing it myself, but on the rare occasion when the technology fails, I have no idea how to fix it. Now, it is a bit ridiculous to expect anything to work in every scenario, but in a case like this, the failure could be a risk factor; I turned on the windshield wipers because something was obstructing my view and automatically shutting them off can be dangerous.
Lastly, I need to think more about automatic functions and “invisible structures” when I design products. These are controls not obvious to the user. They are unseen. You have to know about it to use it. In interaction design, invisible structures need to be consistent and adhere to convention and standards so that the user can either intuitively use it, or go into manual mode without having to think too hard. In the case of our family car, the automatic functions were invisible structures that I could not control, and had no obvious way to switch to manual.
I could just be stubborn, but since I went into UX I have become less tolerant of many issues I encounter with a product. I now expect to be able to pick up a device (even one as complicated as a car) and use it, without any instruction, because that is the experience I want to design for others.
Sanaz Hafezi, is a UX Intern at Akendi, a firm dedicated to creating intentional experiences through end-to-end experience design. To learn more about Akendi or user experience design, visit www.akendi.com.
Akendi is a product strategy, user experience design and usability research firm. We are passionate about the creation of intentional experiences – whether those involve digital products, physical products, mobile, service or bricks-and-mortar interactions. We work shoulder-to-shoulder to optimize the experiences you deliver. Akendi Corporate Overview (PDF).
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