UX Lessons Learned From Offline Experiences
I'm a sucker for a well-crafted user interface, one that doesn't take the user for granted and that doesn't require the user to have a MBA to find his way around. The good news is that a lot of web-designers excel at creating such experiences on the web. Unfortunately it's not always true when you step away from the computer and venture into the 'real world'.
A lot of the things we read about usability and UX in regards to web-design can be applied to offline situations and business. Of course the opposite is also true - things we learn offline can be applied online.
On my own sites, I spend time analyzing traffic, audience, click through rates, page views, ad placements, search engine rankings and a bunch of other things, and I try to provide my users with a great experience (hopefully). Needless to say I'm amazed when I walk into a store or a restaurant and think that they must not care about their customers. Sometimes I can't help but wonder how come the store I just walked in is still in business.
One Of My Most Recent Experiences
Some time ago I moved to a new apartment and asked a friend to come over and help me move my stuff. Of course at one point we needed to eat, so I offered we go to this restaurant not far from my new apartment and I'd pay the bill as a thank you for helping me out.
Here's the thing, that was one of the worst experiences I've ever had going to a restaurant. Not because the staff wasn't friendly or the food was bad, in fact both of those would've gotten an A+.
Nope, I consider it was the worst experience because that place and how it was laid out made me feel stupid.
I Like To Think I'm Not Stupid
And you're not stupid either. Sometimes after using a product or service, we'll feel lost, kind of in a haze, and we'll wonder why we got this weird feeling - that's an indication of bad UX. But in 99% of the cases it's not us, it's the actual interface that's not well designed.
Have a look at the map/layout of the restaurant:
At first you may look at this and think that nothing's wrong, but notice where 'order here' and 'get food here' are. Does it make sense to make people walk all the way to the other side of the restaurant to order, then go back to the entrance to get their food only to have to walk all the way back to the other side to sit down and eat?
When me and my friend entered that restaurant we actually felt lost, we had no idea where to order. In fact we didn't even notice there was a huge 'order here' sign. (duh!)
Lesson #1: If you need to add unnecessary visual cues in order for your users to find their way around, you should probably rethink the whole thing. Especially if those visual cues prove to be ineffective. Your users are not stupid.
Now, there's another big problem with that layout. Imagine there's people in line waiting to order. Where does the line start? It isn't clear and it may cause problems for people carrying plates and drinks since they would somehow have to get through the line of people waiting. Not a fun experience, especially if you drop your plate while trying to get your table.
Lesson #2: Make sure customers are happier when they leave then they were before coming into your store. If you can achieve that, they'll come back. Same goes for the web.
Simple Tweaks Mean Big Results
Sometimes the simplest tweaks can yield huge results. Of course in the case of a restaurant or a store it may not always be easy to implement, but careful planning can prevent problematic situations in the future.
Lesson #3: Plan ahead! Make sure it's easy to scale and try to fix problems before they even occur. There is always room for improvement. Always be on the lookout for simple and inexpensive things you can do to provide a better user experience.
Let's see how this restaurant layout could bee improved. Have a look at this layout:
See how 'order here' and 'get food here' have been switched. Doesn't it make sense to order as soon as you enter the restaurant? I think so.
This not only solves the 'where to order' problem, but it would also prevent customers from bumping into each other. It makes a lot more sense and it's more streamlined. The last thing you want in a restaurant is people bumping into each other. It usually results in broken plates, unhappy people and time wasted cleaning up the mess.
Give Your Users Some Room To Breathe
Now we have a much more interesting layout for that restaurant, but there's another thing that could be improved. On the web we use whitespace to give a page a nice flow and give more importance to some elements of a design, and make things feel less cluttered. The same thing can be one in a store or restaurant.
Check out the following layout:
I simply added a separator line and removed 3 tables. Considering the size of that restaurant, the extra 3 tables were causing more harm than good, so I simply got rid of them. Another deciding factor was that no one was sitting there anyway. Those 3 tables were really in the way.
Also, with that new separation and extra 'whitespace' it's now obvious you should order when you enter the restaurant and it fixes the 'bumping into each other' problem for good.
If You Don't Care About Your Users, They Won't Care About You
That's Lesson #4. The whole story happened a couple months ago. Fast forward to now and that restaurant now has a new owner - the previous owner went out of business. No surprises there.
Since the restaurant changed ownership, it's always full. Why? Because the new owner cares. He understands that you need to ask your customers for feedback and suggestions in order to get better and make them happy.
The restaurant now has a completely different layout (which looks a lot like that 3rd layout I showed you) and going there is a much more enjoyable experience. I have a feeling they'll still be there years from now.
Your Turn To Talk
I hope you found this article helpful. Please take a minute to chime in and share your thoughts. I'd be very interested to hear your own stories on user experience and usability and how online/tech world techniques and tricks can be applied to offline situations.