My focus is on making software, coaching Agile/Scrum teams, and being a husband and father--definitely not on blogging--so please do not expect very frequent posts here.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Vending Machine Madness – UX in the wild

I’m flying today to San Francisco to attend a conference. I was thristy, so I sought out the beverage vending machines In the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.  I was taken aback to see this.
Now, I am not disturbed that I had nothing but a four-foot touchscreen with which to interact.  Truthfully, I didn’t mind that.  It was how the items were on the screen that was troubling.  The bottles of pop (“soda” for you coasterners) spiraled around in a helix in a way that I am sure they thought was visually appealing and eye-catching.  However, at any given time, half the bottles were not discernable to the user.  To make this worse, the helix had no beginning or end, and the bottles just continued to sprial into infinity off the screen.  I could not figure out where the list started and ended.
Now, my ability to read the designers’ minds told me that choices weren’t really off the screen—that the list loops around, and at some point, the helix just starts over near the bottom with the same choices as on top.  So, I figured that I could just find the first repeated bottle and look at everything in between them.  Now, 90% of users wouldn’t think of doing this, thus they are left in a morass of confusion as to whether they have seen the whole list.  But I am a power user, right?  The black Coke Zero bottle was particularly eye-catching, so I located two of these and focused on all the bottles in between. I had to wait a bit for the unreadable bottles “in the back” to cycle to to the front.  Also, the labels on the bottles were so small that I had to get pretty close to the screen and study them intently. There were 16 choices in between the two Coke Zeroes, which seemed like a lot, so I probably saw them all, right?
Wrong.  Between the two Coke Zero bottles were no Pepsi bottles, but near the bottom I spotted a Pepsi that didn’t appear before!  Really?  So now I have no earthly idea how many varieties of pop this machine offered.  For all I know, I might stand there for ten minutes before the rare choices appear!  (I hope I can get a Surge or an OK!)
So I watched a bit more, when suddenly…a Mary Sue full-screen ad appears!
Really?  I was trying to figure out what $3 pop to buy—an activity that directly leads me to giving Theisen Vending some money--and they take away my only interface to the system I have?
This illustrates a still-too-often ignored principle of UX: Your graphic design and aesthetics should help the user complete their desired action.  Above all, the aesthetics should not hinder them. Seems pretty basic, right?  Sadly, many still get this wrong.
Theisen, hire a UX expert for a few hours and let them tweak your touchscreens (or make your software vendor do it).  You’ll sell more pop.

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