My recent experience with a darn telephone box is a perfect embodiment of what Don Norman wrote in his book The Design of Everyday Things.
I work in a startup company purchased by much larger and older startup company, and yes, we have swings and bean bags in our common room. So, as the millenial co-working space design standard dictates, we have pretty many cool things in our office. Pop-up colored furniture, grass-like plush carpet, and British/Londoners telephone boxes are present in the communal space. People can sit on the bean bags while having their meeting, because ideas are what important. Let’s just say goodbye to old co-working spaces with cold steely cubicles the Generation X are working at.
Anyway, there are two iconic red telephone boxes on the 4th floor where I sit, and they are intended as a closed space people can use for privacy and not disturbing other colleagues during call.
Last week, I wanted to use this space for a call. I inched closer to the telephone box, hoping to get inside and call in peace, but… bam! I couldn’t find where the door was.
The door, people! Where was it?
I ended up like a dog encircling a space before sitting down just to find a door handle or some “Open” door tag, but there was none. My waiting tone was still on the phone, so while splitting my attention between when the receiving end picking up the phone so I had to say “Hello” and where the door handle was, I was taking a step back in my mind.
Perhaps, it’s not a door handle or a sign. I don’t know, I’ve never been to a Britain before and I don’t know how this stuff works. I saw some red telephone boxes in coffee shops or museum but never tried to open it and get inside.
Next to this telephone box spot sat some guys in the small meeting space. One of them called me out to point where the door was. A little bit embarrassed, I saw a small hinge on one side of the telephone box. Still, the side didn’t have any handle. How was I supposed to open it? From the bulbous side of the side, it can’t be pushing inside. Hmm, I thought, it should be outward pulling. So, yeah, 2 layers of guessing of just opening a door. My receiving end did not pick up anyway, so I got back to my desk.
Okay, I might be exaggerating, and it’s just an anecdotal example, and people can just assume my mind was somewhere else or I wasn’t just myself for a moment of time. But, there is a reason why Don Norman wrote pages of door which made me want to write the similar article.
In this age when people talk about UI/UX standard of designing web and applications, this anecdotal example of door can serve as an inspiration on your manifesto as a designer: (quoting Steve Krug’s book title) Don’t Make Me Think. I read the 2nd edition when the author did not specifically mention UI/UX as the term was coined later, but got the point. Not everyone has all the time in the world during their online session, hence designing user journey and interface that helps them completing the task without sidetracking is our aim.
You can bridge this experience to any UI/UX design and think that:
- Where is the door is similar to where is the <insert URL, button, or whatever here>
- How to open the door is similar to how to treat this <insert URL, button, or whatever here>. Is this colored text even a link? Is this button clickable? Oh, apparently it’s just a box. Does this field need to be typed in? Does this tag appear automatically below? And any other guesswork here.
People who heard my story and then saw the aforementioned telephone box might laugh at my experience of failing to see a hinge. Well, a hinge, a URL, a button, or whatever your product has in plain sight to redirect user might not be perceived as clear enough for a user. This isn’t even addressing the special accessibility needs from differently able people. As a designer, it’s best to keep in mind that while you know the inside out of your product, a lot of users will just see it for the very first time and they need assistance to do it right.
It was just a 5min midweek experience for me, but it motivated me to improve and learn more in my product design, so a user does not have to rely on other user (in this case, a guy who told me which side the door was) on using a product.
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