Why Is Bad User Experience Design Still A Thing?

The other day I decided to set up two relatively common household products: (1) a wireless router and (2) a portable steamer. The instruction manuals and the resulting experiences of each setup couldn’t have been more different. Can you guess which required more energy, brain power and patience?

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Ding ding ding ding ding! It was the steamer!

Why did setting up an appliance with mechanical engineering akin to a kitchen kettle feel like preparing a space shuttle launch…while a device manufactured by a cable company took five minutes with zero aggravation or ambiguity? The answer: User Experience design.

Good UX: The Router Setup

Setting up routers used to involve sitting on the phone with the cable company and wishing it was somebody else’s job. Now it’s as simple as flipping open a glossy, single-page pamphlet and following clear, colorful diagrams placed alongside highly legible text.

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There was even some witty Easter Egg copy as if a real human being wrote it and not just a systems engineer:

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Relax? No problem! In fact, when the blinking lights stopped flashing after just two minutes, I felt like a technical genius.

Bad UX: The Steamer

The steamer was another story. A list of 14 steps with essentially no visual hierarchy made it nearly impossible to skim for the most important information: how to avoid burning yourself. In fact, this nugget is all the way at the bottom of list item 13, below a mountainous, monotonous section of text. “The water in the reservoir can severely burn skin.”

Seriously?!

The visual aid stresses the importance of moving the steamer up and down. This doesn’t seem like the most important and/or complicated piece of information for a user to grasp.

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Here’s how I would have written this information: 


 

Before You Begin:

  1. DO NOT fill with water past the max line.
  2. DO NOT tilt the steamer back and forth or water will drip out.
    • Use an up-down motion, not too long in the same spot. 
  3. When you’re done OR need a refill, unplug.
    • Wait 5 minutes after unplugging for unit to cool before handling.

STEP 1: Fill steamer with water.

  • Twist reservoir cap clockwise to open.
  • Add tap water up to the maximum line. Do not overfill.
  • Replace reservoir cap and twist counter-clockwise to close.

STEP 2: Turn on device.

  • Plug device into power outlet and press ON.
  • When on, the switch will light up.
  • Wait 2-3 minutes for unit to heat up.

Step 3: Steam clothing.

  • Always keep unit in an upright position.
  • Point steam holes at wrinkled fabric. Move steamer in an up-down direction.
  • For best results, pull fabric firmly in place while steaming.

Step 4: Unplug and allow to cool before handling.

  • Even after turned off, any water inside the unit will remain boiling hot.
  • Wait 5 minutes before handling.
  • Once cool, empty excess water and replace cap.
  • Store in a cool, dry place.

 

People who buy portable steamers value convenience. It should be easier to assemble. My revision lists key safety concerns at the top followed by a logical order of steps, told in fewer words.

If Apple can bring computers to the masses, and Fios makes it painless to set up routers, manufacturers of household appliances have no excuses for dated, poor user experiences.

Get it together! (pun intended)

Writing For Online Audiences? Say More. Write Less.

It’s a humbling experience to realize that while you enjoy writing, did well in school and aren’t afraid of expository essays – it’s a whole other world when writing for the web. Social media, email newsletters, company blog posts…these should be considered channels to produce “copy” – not tomes.

Compelling copy is written economically.

Less is more, no matter how long the supporting body copy should be. Twitter imposes a 140 character limit….but Facebook doesn’t. Neither does email. Long-winded social media posts and emails bore readers; too much copy that takes too long to get to the point sacrifices attention – and ultimately sales.

Consider theSkimm, an email newsletter that raised $6.3M in Series A funding this past December. It recaps top news stories, pared-down into informal, easy-to-digest snippets. Created by two former NBC News producers, theSkimm excels at explaining why those top stories are considered important. This layer of meta-value is created thanks to an appreciation by the editors for their audience’s time and intelligence: busy professionals who want to know not just what’s happening in the world, but why it matters.

Another example of the value of sharp content is Blinkist, an app that summarizes nonfiction books into 250 words or less chapters, including a Final Summary chapter. Their tagline is “A smarter you in 15 minutes”. Brilliant. For free, you get access to one pre-selected book a day. I recently upgraded to receive unlimited “Blinks” for less than $40 per year. Classics like 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Emotional Intelligence and Getting Things Done are broken down and digested in a way that feels intravenous.

This trend is also part of what makes Medium so compelling as a blog publishing platform; each post has a “read time” next to the title, allowing the reader to mentally prepare before making any investment of attention or time.

Read time on Medium

Image of a “5-min read” article by Medium author @amarchenkova

theSkimm, Blinkist and Medium are examples of how to make online content compelling. They’re both modeled on providing “hooks” – a reader gets a taste of something he or she can then decide to further investigate. theSkimm links to original sources; I’m waiting for Blinkist to offer integration with Amazon’s “Wish List” if not a direct link to the book’s product page.

Brands interested in grabbing and retaining attention need to say less.

Which requires smarter writing. Which involves more thought. To understand the target audience. What’s the value of the content. How to communicate smartly and effectively.

For more on writing crisp, concise copy for the web, Copyblogger is a great resource on the topic. Pair with “Hey Whipple Squeeze This” by Luke Sullivan, a guidebook on creating effective ad copy. You could even read it in 13min on Blinkist. 😉