I just returned from a fantastic two-week family vacation in Yellowstone and Bozeman, MT. Lots of great fishing photos I would love to share, but this post is about usability issues I encountered along the way–nothing big enough to even dent our mood, but good for a chuckle nevertheless.
Take this poster for example. We encountered this at a Scenic View pullover in the Teton Pass, near Jackson, WY. This is a great example of Jakob Nielsen’s reminder: text is a user interface. The top bullet reads, “Avoid surprising animals by making noise and staying alert especially on sections of trail with limited sight distance.” Is this telling me not to make a lot of noise, because this will surprise animals? Or to make noise, so that animals can hear me coming? One way to phrase this better would be, “Make noises while you walk so that you don’t surprise animals. Stay alert, especially…”
I also ran into a lot of buttons that don’t look like buttons on this trip. This is a cream dispenser at a convenience store in Belgrade, WY. You put your cup under the white straw, and then press the image of a creamer in the green area, based upon whether you want Half & Half or French Vanilla. Most people will start by pressing those big reddish labels instead, not knowing that they’re supposed to press the OTHER buttons that don’t look like buttons.
Designers, if you or your users have to plaster arrows and instructions all over your interface, something is wrong. At right is an image of the gas pump interface at stations inside Yellowstone Park. In addition to being a button that does not look or act like a button, this control interferes with the mental model that everyone by now has developed with regard to filling their tank: swipe a card, select a gas product, start pumping. Introducing an additional step to start the flow of gasoline just confuses people.
Unfortunately, more and more steps are being added to these point of sale moments: What’s your zip code? Do you want a car wash? At some other establishments, it’s, Do you want to contribute $ to this great cause? In another context, these are all good and worthy questions. But in the context of point of sale transactions, they interrupt the process of habit formation, making such meaningless tasks something we have to take time to think about. Rule: Don’t design interactions that require users to spend time thinking about meaningless things.