Just a short while ago it was normal for people to have very few interactions with machines throughout the day. They used them at their jobs, and they were properly instructed. If the machine had its quirks, people knew how to work around them, they adapted to the machine, no problem. Fast forward to today and the world has changed. We are interacting with machines all day long, at home, when driving, parking, getting a snack, buying groceries. You are using a machine to read this text and depending on your definition of machine, you probably have more than a hundred of them working on the machine you are reading this text with. People adapting to machines was manageable when they operated one of them every day. Today that’s not an option anymore. That’s why User Experience Design as a field is rising in importance. It’s not just the invention, making something possible that wasn’t possible before, that gives you an edge in todays world. It’s also not aesthetics on its own. It’s how much people enjoy using your product, or alternatively: don’t have to think about it while using it.
Yesterday I watched a curious interaction at the grocery store. I was packing in my groceries when the women next in line was trying to pay for hers. So, she put her card into the card reader and was ready to type in her PIN when the cashier told her that the card reader wasn’t ready yet. So, they had to remove the card, reset the reader and try again. A few seconds later she puts in her card a second time and the same thing happens. This time she protests that the card reader said it was ready. And really, that’s what the card reader displayed verbatim, even the first time: “Card reader is ready”. However there is a catch: that message only displays that the reader itself is working, not that the connection to the cash register has been made and the customer can put in her card. Indeed you have to wait a few second until the card reader displays “put in your card”, before you are allowed to put in your card. At this point we have a frustrated customer who feels like an idiot, and a cashier who has resigned since it’s probably the hundredth time the same thing has happened that day.
If the above felt tedious to read imagine how bad the experience is for the people actually involved. The shame of the customer, with everyone else waiting in line, the frustration of the cashier because of the stupid card reader and stupid customers who make the same mistake day after day.
If the cashiers get a chance to switch to another product, they will jump on it. Not because other products are technically superior, do something novel or are more beautiful, but because of the User Experience. This is why bad UX will kill your product.
If the producers of that card reader had spent (or maybe did spend) 15 minutes watching their product being used in a real world environment they would have seen this issue. The question is however: Would they have blamed it on their UX or the customer behavior? Their product was technically doing everything right. Fixing the issue is easy, the difficult thing is to realize that there is an issue in the first place. That’s a paradigm change, paradigm changes kill products. Don’t let it be your product.