It’s not rocket science that bad UX ruins a good app. Back in February, 2020, when life seemed normal and Covid-19 hadn’t sunk its teeth into the world deep enough, I found myself scouting the streets of Paris for a hidden gem.
No, not jewelry, but a restaurant with rave reviews from just about everyone who lent a recommendation. In my opinion, this unassuming little restaurant was tucked away in one of the least traversed bylanes of the city. Yet inside, it felt like the entire city had converged upon this one spot.
When Bad UI Ultimately Delivers Bad UX
What struck me, amongst other things, was the use of touchscreens to browse and place meal orders. This freed up the service staff’s time, streamlined process flow, made checkout simpler and splashed a bit of modern across an otherwise antiquated room.
However, there were three big problems and I walked right into them:
- Upon selecting and customizing a dish, there were no visual cues for submitting that preference.
- I was preview only to default dishes I added to the cart, not the cumulative order for that table.
- I couldn’t submit my order when I was ready.
My colleague seemed equally confused. “Perhaps cultural constraints were at play”, we thought. Was sharing, splitting a bill or going Dutch not socially acceptable practices? Of course not. This was just a bad user interface design that led to bad UX.
The wireframe below illustrates what we were presented with. The two ‘X’ marks indicate where we expected some sort of actionable click-through to submit/add our order. I’d imagine many others would too.
We did manage to secure help from the hostess who nonchalantly clicked the “Order” title at the top. Fortunately, we weren’t alone. We noticed the same predicament at every other table in the room. The hostesses were visibly upset and customers equally confused. It was quite obviously an error that defeated the purpose for which the app was built. The user interface was delivering bad UX.
The illustration below shows where the hostess clicked to submit our orders. The title didn’t appear to be clickable in any conceivable way. With a bit of probing, we were informed that the devices were pre-configured by the hostess to sum up the order for our table. But, that feature seemed under-developed since neither of the participants could view the combined order.
Perhaps, an order tab to verify the collective order could have helped. I’ve highlighted an ‘X’ in the navigation bar where I would most likely expect to find such a feature. It could have displayed a highlight to denote the number of items in the cart (similar to email/message icons found on mobile devices). Something to avoid potential errors, even embarrassment.
Submitting an order is one of the primary reasons for such a technology to exist. Surely, someone walked the user’s path at some point before releasing the project.
Did the designer forget to add the appropriate signifiers? Did the development team not construct the right storyboard? Did the product manager forget to add the user story or build a use case? Did they neglect usability testing? Where was the system feedback, quick guides or demos? Was it a very tight budget or a short turnaround time?
From any angle, there is no excuse for overlooking research and testing. A quick guide/demo always helps, even when tasks appear simple and obvious. You want customers to relax and enjoy the experience. Feeling anxious until the order arrives won’t help. It gets put down as bad UX even if the food is amazing. It’s like that one hair that sticks out.
It’s clear that an appropriate signifier was missing. In addition, most customers view/verify the order and bill before proceeding with their order. This makes even more sense when there are additional members or combined orders at the table. Again, an obvious use case.
In addition, one must always account for constraints when building a product. It’s important to construct for inclusion wherever possible. For instance, there weren’t any language options available nor accomodations for those with visual impairments.
Technical Talent and User Experience.
User experience is really a beautiful subject to learn and apply. It’s conventional yet dynamic in it’s own unique way. It’s not necessarily technical, but, depends a lot on user-research, empathy and analysis.
Over the years, my interests in software products, mobile applications and user experience have grown substantially and I find myself drawn to projects of these sorts.
I continue to apply the principles and learnings of good user experience from traditional products or processes to those of a digital nature. In doing so, I’m tickled when I identify gaps, some evident, some not. I try to provide creative, yet grounded, alternatives to what I’ve encountered.
Yet, what bothers me for some reason, is that tech companies place high weightage on the technical skills of the product manager and less on human or business understanding. I’m sure there are instances where this is a hardwired requirement. I’m equally certain that there are instances where it is not.
What’s so intriguing is that the technical product manager may never exercise his/her primary skills. Instead, they focus almost exclusively on non-technical elements of the development mix. Makes you wonder why things go wrong.