New Users be Damned!

Two unrelated incidents got me thinking how common is our apathy towards new users or those users who use a product in the way it is expected to be used…

The first one was about my local bank branch’s faulty ATM machine. The machine had been faulty for the past one year. I say faulty because, to do a transaction in that machine, it requires the user to insert the card in a peculiar way, like slowly pulling it out after inserting it or some kind of deft sleight-of-hand action that seems to me only the guard stationed there has mastered. Despite my repeated complaints, first, to the guard, then to any of the poor soul coming out of the bank, who I remotely identified as the bank’s employee, the machine was not fixed. Later it struck me that despite multiple complaints from me and perhaps some other new user, no action was taken, because a) the employee and the other more skilful customers seemed to have mastered that art of using the ATM in that peculiar way, or b) this was the advice that came from the branch manager herself, was to skip the faulty machine and use the other one. So their indirect message was that, as long as you are able to get their work done, why to bother to fix it.

The second incident happened at home. I was having difficulty for quite some time to put the latch on our bathroom door, because it misaligned with the metal loop, into which it was supposed to hook on to. I asked my mother why she didn’t call the carpenter to fix it. Her curt reply was no one in the family is having a problem with it, so why should it be fixed. Out of frustration, I took her to the bathroom to show her why it was a problem. She said let me show you how to use it… Instead of closing the door entirely shut like how it is supposed to, she kept it slightly ajar before putting the latch. Lo and behold, it latched on perfectly. Again here, it had seemed like the since the rest of the family, but I also had found a workaround, so they never bothered to fix it too.


Well, you can say, that in both the cases I should have just figured out the workaround and moved on. That’s where the problem lies. Most of us are just too engaged with our daily lives that the moment we find a workaround to a problem we just don’t try to fix it once and for all so that other new users don’t face that same issue also. This leads to all the new user facing the same issue at least once, and God helps them if they are not able to find that secret fix. This attitude also permeates to our other areas of life. The moment we find a workaround to the bug in the application we are using, we don’t file a complaint with the company that developed the application or when we narrowly avert a pothole or some obstacle that lie in the middle of the road, we just make a mental note to ourselves, to keep it in mind the next time we crossed the same road, let the other riders or driver figure it out themselves too, why to bother? How many of us would stop and remove the obstacle or at least stop by a police booth, should that be on the way and register a complaint? Again this is because we by nature lack empathy for strangers or users even if they are on the same difficulty as us.

If we do need to make products or services better, we should make an effort to fix or at least complain about the products or services we are using when it doesn’t work as expected, even if we did manage to find the secret key to make it work. That way each of us can play a small part in making users and people around us happier.

ICICI Bank ATM Machine: A Usability nightmare

ATM Machines are supposed to be made as user-friendly as it can be. But is it?

ATM Machines are supposed to be made as user-friendly as it can be, considering the following factors:

  • It is to be self-operated, with no help around what so ever in case if you need one. In any case, since this relates to your own money, the last thing you would like to do is seek help from a stranger to operate your own Debit card.
  • It concerns the operation of one own’s finances, one mistake and the user may just end up panicking.
  • Because of the nature of the transaction, it’s supposed to be made as quick and smooth as possible.

I have found there are many issues that plague the ICICI Bank ATM machines in my city, Kolkata, INDIA, please note since I have my account there, so I end up mostly accessing the ICICI Bank ATM Machines, am sure some of these “dis” features is present in other ATM machines as well:

  • The machine that Supports Decimal Places: This is one of the most irritating and actually ridiculous features of some of the ATM machines. They force the user to enter the extra “00” after the decimal. So when we want to withdraw Rs. 4,000, if we are not careful we may just key in “4000” we end up withdrawing Rs. 40/- (40.00)!!! Absolutely ridiculous! Who came up with a system like this!? and even more surprising is there are still quite a few ATM machine that continues to operate this way.
  • Dip Machine Access Status: This is an issue with ATM machine that operates by inserting the card momentarily and taking it out. The problem is there are no defined time or any status messages that let us know if our card has been read correctly before we remove it. So sometimes we end up removing it too soon and sometime too late.
    The Solution: Once we insert our card there should be a status message on the screen that says, “Reading Card…” then “Card Read, You may now remove the Card”. It will leave the unpredictability out of this whole process.
  • The Misalignment of Screen element with the real buttons outside the screens: The is a very common issue, especially with the older machines, the screen elements just somehow doesn’t line up with the actual buttons outside the screens. So sometimes you end up pressing the wrong option, or no options at all. Eg. suppose you want to “Withdraw Cash” and you will find the “Withdraw Cash” Option arrow pointing somewhere between two actual buttons… You sometimes have to make a guess on which button to press.
    Solution: Am not sure if this is Practical, but to Banish the real buttons altogether. Some ATM Machines actually operates that way.
  • The Timeout feature: This problem is faced acutely by new ATM users or the elderly users who take some time to read and comprehend the next action. By the time they have understood the message and make a choice they receive a “Time Out” message.
    Solution: A) The timeout should definitely be increased in some of the machines. And maybe a 10-second countdown timer should be shown once the timeout reaches less than 10 seconds. For those fearing that the longer session period might be misused by other users, my suggestions is a “Log Out” or “End Transaction” option. This brings me to my next suggestion.
  • Log Out Option: How often have we waited for the ATM screen to return to the initial state screen, to ensure that we have safely logged out. I feel after each transaction is complete, we should be given an option to “Log Out” or “End Transaction” so that we do not even have to wait for it to auto logout. For those who may forget to press the log out button, there could be a countdown timer status that shows “This transaction will log out in XXX seconds”
  • Auto-Detecting Savings/Current Account: This is a minor suggestion, but I think anything that will help save the user a step, it would be really helpful. Unless one Debit card can hold two accounts, why do we need to always select which account (ie. Savings or Current) we are operating. It should auto detect which account we are accessing and help us skip one extra step.

I wouldn’t have noticed some of the usability issues, had I not accompany my mum, who like most of the people in their generation isn’t very tech savvy and requires some time to read through and comprehend instructions. Think about it, many of the parents who have children working abroad and not many people around, when they receive money into their account they would never dare to venture into an ATM alone just thinking about the complexity they would have to encounter there.

 

Motorola Charger Jack. Simple yet extremely usable.

How many times have you found yourself fiddling in the dark to plug the charger jack into your mobile, not sure if the jack should be faced up or down?

moto-charger

Seems like the industrial designers at Motorola Mobility found a solution to this. At least I found it to be pretty effective myself. The body of the jack is curved down in the middle ever so slightly to naturally match the curve of your thumb as you hold it, this gives you a good feel of the orientation of the jack just by holding it without even looking at it.

Yes other mobile companies, including Apple before they came up with the bi-directional jack, did provide a small etched marking on the top side of the jack to indicate that it had to face that way. But neither our fingers are sensitive enough to feel the mark when we are not looking at it, nor our eyes are good enough to see it in the dark.

Some of you may argue that Apple provides the best solution with its bi-directional jack, which can be plugged in either way. Well, no doubt about it. It’s actually an inspired piece of engineering. But then how many of us would wish to trade the use of that jack with our freedom to use other devices as well as our own older devices adapters to charge or to transfer files? Oh heck, forget other devices, I now have to carry two cables for my two Apple devices, one for the older iPod and one for my iPad Mini! So till the day Apple is generous enough (trust me that day will never come) to open their bi-directional jack technology to all, I feel Motorola’s simple little tweak in the adapter design will remain as the most usable and cost-effective solution.

 

Learning UX

There are two ways to go about learning about UX Design. One is to get Educated and the other is two get Qualified. Now let me explain the difference between the two. To get educated means to gain knowledge, with or without a certification to prove so. This requires more discipline and research but is generally more affordable. The second is by enrolling in some UX courses and getting certified.

My suggestion is if you are a beginner, you start with a basic certification program, which I will cover later, to quickly get an overview of the profession and also get connected to others in the similar field. Then later on if you are still interested, get yourself educated and make sure you practice a lot. And finally, if you are still interested and would like to take your UX career to the next level, do a Premium Certification course.

So quickly listing them in here:

Getting Educated:

Free Ones

Moderately Charged

Mobile App Designing

Getting Qualified:

Premium Classroom Courses

Designer and UX Gurus to Follow:

Video Collections:

Blogs

One-off videos:

Free E-Books: