Everybody is so obsessed with user experience these days.
Developers, designers, and UI/UX experts spend countless hours optimizing interfaces for mobile applications, web forms, desktop software, and other tech stuff.
I hear people complaining about the nitty-gritties of online user experience, but rarely do I hear people discussing improvements to the concrete stuff around them, such as the building’s trash bin or their cooking utensils. In a world that lives on the hype of digital innovation, the experience of the good old physical products is lurking behind.
Thus, I collected a short list of five physical products many of us use and have a sub-par user experience. Note: I’m not writing this list to complain about the products; rather to show the contrast between the great user experience we demand from the digital world versus the low user experience we have come to accept in the “concrete world”.
Toblerone is a Swiss brand of chocolate (purchased by Kraft Foods in 1990) that stands for quality. While we can argue about the quality of the chocolate, let’s focus for second on the quality of the foil wrapping it. Toblerone is wrapped with thin foil that doesn’t peel off in one piece, rather shreds into a million pieces as you touch it. You run the risk of accidentally eating foil. This shredding effect makes it hard to peel a bit of foil and seal back to keep the rest of the chocolate fresh.
Moreover, the chocolate itself has pieces of toffee/honey that stick to your teeth. These pieces of carbs remain stuck in your molars to feed the bacteria and cause cavities. When you eat regular chocolate without toffee, your saliva melts away the remains of the chocolate and it doesn’t stay in your molars. The toffee doesn’t melt.
User experience score from 1 to 10: 4.
Improvement suggestions: use thicker foil, soften or replace the toffee.
If you consume ice and don’t have an ice machine, you have to deal with ice trays.
You’re probably familiar with the following scenario: you get the ice tray out of the freezer with the hope of putting ice cubes into your drink. Then, as you flip the ice tray facing down to drop a few cubes into your cup, you find that the ice cubes have a life of their own: they start falling out of the tray, spreading everywhere (including but not limited to your cup).
If you’re experienced, you try to work around these challenges by first releasing the ice cubes onto a plate and later manually placing them in your drink. Yet, the ice tray experience remains un-streamlined.
When you’re done with the ice, you have to fill the ice tray with water and put it back in the freezer. In an attempt to avoid spilling the water on the way to the freezer you hold the ice tray with both hands. Wait, how am I supposed to open the freezer now?
User experience score from 1 to 10: 3.
Improvement suggestion: include a cover that helps you control the ice cubes coming out + prevents the water spill.
Bedding #1: blankets tucked in
Unless you want to work on your feet flexibility and sleep in a ballet dancer position, why would you want your blanket tucked in?
If you’re staying at a hotel, you un-tuck the blanket on the first night, only to find out on the next night that housekeeping tucked it back. Your only way to avoid this phenomenon is to leave the “do not disturb” sign on the door so you don’t get a visit from housekeeping at all.
User experience score from 1 to 10: 0.
Improvement suggestion: get your local legislator to ban blanket tucking.
Bedding #2: duvets and covers
Did you ever put a duvet in a cover to later find out that you put it the wrong way (i.e. length of duvet went into width of cover)? Often you just leave it as is, hoping to get it right next time, since putting a duvet in a cover can be quite an annoying task.
Duvets and their covers exist mainly in the form of rectangles which are almost square. Can’t the makers put an arrow to help us tell length from width?
User experience score from 1 to 10: 2.
Improvement suggestion: include a small arrow on both duvets and covers that indicates which side is the “length”.
Have you attended conferences that had a schedule in a mobile app, live Twitter hashtags displaying on the screen, smart bar code scanning and other techy features, yet the conference tag kept turning the wrong way?
User experience score from 1 to 10: 4.
Improvement suggestion: print on both sides, if using stickers, apply them to both sides (can’t believe I am actually writing this).
“Public restroom” is a generic name for any restroom that is not at home. Specifically, any restroom in which you wish to minimize contact with items around you for hygiene reasons.
Often, it seems like the public restroom is designed to enable you to share and receive as many germs as possible. Decisions like placement of the trash bin and the type of door handle are either completely arbitrary or made to increase dissemination of diseases.
For example, take the office restroom of a (super innovative) company I know, a company that puts a lot of thought into the user experience of its digital products. This company, however, exhibits lack of thought when it comes to its restroom.
As people finish doing their thing, they wash their hands; there is no automated faucet so they have to touch everything with their bare hands.
As they get ready to leave the restroom, they encounter this knob:
Rather than a regular handle one can lean on /push with elbow, here you have to grab the knob and turn it.
That way you get to find out if the person before you dried his hands are not. Sometimes you grab the knob and it’s completely wet. Not fun. Essentially, it’s like you’re shaking hands with every single person that visited the restroom that day.
User experience from 1 to 10: 0.
Improvement suggestions: design a restroom that is as “hands-free” as possible.
To sum up, I hope one day some decision-makers that deal with chocolate, ice trays, blankets and restrooms will read my article and put more thought into the design of our everyday, concrete environment. You as an end-user also have power – write a letter to the company that makes the product you would like to improve; talk to the building management at your office about making some changes to the restrooms, etc.
And, I welcome you to leave your ideas for additional product experience improvements in the comments section below