Friday, January 23, 2009

Usability gone backwards

I have a simple belief about exploiting technology effectively - make it disappear! What do I mean by this? When you use technology to do something you couldn't previously do and don't actually think about the technology in question - well, that's when it's really effective. An example is when you make a mobile phone call. There are seriously complex technologies at work in the handset, the basestations, the network operations centers etc, but nobody is thinking about this when you make a call. All you're thinking about is calling your friend.

Earlier today I was parking my car and needed to feed the meter. Simple task, you would imagine. I also decided to use this opportunity to get rid of loads of change I had lying around. Anyway, the machine in question was an "upgraded" parking machine - the kind that gives you a ticket for a period of time that you display on your car.

Well, some "genius" obviously missed the memo about making technology simple. Here I am with a handful of small coins planning to throw them into the machine quickly one after another and then head off to my meeting. That's when I came across problem one. The machine required me to put each coin into a little slot and push up a lever to deposit the coin. Brilliant design. What was wrong with a coin slot? No, we now have to undergo two actions to put in each coin. Watch out for all the repetitive strain injuries!

That's when I hit problem two. If you recall, I was using this as a way to reduce my coin collection. After putting in what felt like a million coins to get a couple of hours parking, the machine helpfully announced that I had put in too many coins and dumped them all back out the returns slot! Grrrrr

I eventually managed to get my ticket but I couldn't get over how the designers of the machine had taken a huge step backwards in usability. My only conclusion is that the operators want to discourage the use of coins (saves having somebody going around collecting them) for the "easier" approach of paying with your mobile phone - another horrible multi-step process!

Product makers really need to focus more effort in usability as I've seen so many examples over the last while of terrible interfaces which just irritates end users.

Rant over...