User Experience From the Consumer’s Eye

January 11, 2013 Brian Banet Leave a comment

As a founder and lead developer of a document management solution whose stated objectives from the very beginning were simplicity and ease of use in an industry where products are generally anything but, it's fair to say that user experience consumes a good deal of my time and thoughts. I love great products, as most people do, and I guess I always have. From a very early age, I can recall never settling for something that was just mediocre. This began with products that I consumed, and has come full circle to the products that I now have a very big part in delivering. A great deal of pride comes with being involved in delivering a quality product that users "just get."

I suppose that's why I am so floored when I see what to me are very obvious design decisions gone awry in products where I am the consumer. I recently traded in my tried and true Volvo after 200,000 flawless and hard earned miles. My S60 was the epitome of what to me a car should be – perfect in every way. Well, almost.

I live in New England, and drive more than 35 miles each way to work and back, so 4-wheel drive sure would come in handy and add some peace of mind on what can be, at times, a treacherous drive home. I also have two kids in the back seat a good deal of time, so with me being 6'5" and them constantly getting taller, some added leg room back there would be nice as well.

Enter the 4-Runner. I love this truck. Its got massive leg room in the back seats, has a third row that has come in handy more than once already, and I think there would need to be a solid 3 feet of snow on the ground before it would even flinch. The 4-Runner has solved all open issues I was looking to clear up with my daily driver. But as they say, the devil is in the details.

No less than three times a week I am sopping coffee out of the switches for the heated seats. I don't even like heated seats, and whoever thought it would be a good idea to put electrical switches on a flat surface next to a cup holder was definitely mistaken. When it means I have to try and clean it up while I am rolling down the highway at 65mph, that's a bad user experience.

On the upside, The 4-Runner's audio system is incredible. I do appreciate the Bluetooth tethering to my iPhone, and the steering wheel mounted controls come in handy. I will say however that the volume controls and track skip controls could not be more wrong. Forward and back arrows should denote moving back and forth between audio tracks, but Toyota has opted to use up and down arrows. This might not be that noticeable until you put those arrows right next to the plus and minus signs used for controlling the volume. When glancing down quickly while driving, it's very hard to figure out what buttons do what, and I regularly find myself hitting the up arrow to raise the volume only to find myself skipping out of the track entirely which leaves me doing some sweet A Capella.

A rear window that rolls down into the back lift gate is probably the 4-Runner's most uselessly cool feature. Useless or not, I do tend to roll it down, and there are some handy buttons on the back of the truck to roll down the window from the outside as well. These buttons serve double duty and also allow you to lock and unlock all the doors. I am not sure who decided that up should lock the doors and down should unlock them, but I hope they were fired. This contradicts everything the human brain has ever been taught about locking anything and is beyond ridiculous. Up = Unlock. Down = Lock. Did this guy grow up on a planet where gravity didn't pull things down? I just don't get it.

Bad user experiences are everywhere. They can be apparent in services we receive or in products we buy. I would like to say I have a keen eye for identifying these things, but I am saddened to admit that I didn't notice any of these "glaring" holes before I bought the truck. I guess as software developers we should be striving to plug as many of these holes as we can before our products ever reach the customer, and the best way to achieve that is to implement your user experiences from a consumer's eye. I am fortunate to have had a career that immersed me in the end user experience before I ever wrote a line of code. My biggest piece of advice for new developers getting their start is to find a way to get this experience. And for the love of all things right and just, if you need to lock something, please use the down arrow!

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