Who is responsible for bad user experience?
Since launching in 2011, Fathom has been based at a number of different locations as the business has grown and matured. In the early days, we shared reception services with other start-up businesses in two separate locations.
One such joint office space had notoriously tricky receptionists, blindly oblivious to their primary responsibility of welcoming visitors and efficiently pointing them in our direction. On more than one occasion, clients commented on how brusque (to use the printable summary of the feedback) their reception experience had been, and a specific nadir was one client who was so incensed that he blogged about the experience when he returned to his office. It turns out, he felt that being rudely spoken to and offered no coffee or direction after flying to Belfast from Paris was unreasonable. Quelle surprise!
However, those responsible for creating the terrible experience always kept one final trick up their sleeve just to really reinforce their soft power, which was to ensure at all costs the client knew that going over the edge was their fault.
Haven’t stamped your car park ticket correctly using the confusing system? You must be an idiot!
Have the temerity to be in a meeting that runs over 5.30pm without letting reception know earlier? You must be a thoughtless fool who doesn’t understand how the world works!
Didn’t fill in the two rows (top and bottom) of the badge as you only noticed one of the rows? How can they possibly allow you to run a business?
‘We need to get design out of the lofty, sanitised environs of the boardroom and into the real world’
– GARETH DUNLOP
In other words, they created an environment that offered lots of opportunity for the visitor to get it wrong and then blamed the visitor for getting it wrong in this environment.
Without exception, every challenge our clients faced could have been easily solved through improved signage, human warmth and common sense. None of these solutions were considered, much less embraced.
Predominantly for this reason, we left those business premises as quickly as we could. Before ratcheting the self-righteousness up to 12 (this author maintains a pretty-exhausting level 11 at all times), it’s beneficial to take a minute to consider the equivalent in service design and digital design.
The restaurant website has the wrong opening hours and the hungry family have to wait outside for an hour before they can go inside for their dinner – who’s to blame?
The website is full of internal speak, lack of flow, and the critical information to help the user is suffocated by the weeds of marketing waffle and so the user needs to phone the support centre – who’s to blame?
The patient gets frustrated when the patient after them in A&E gets treated more quickly because their injury is more serious but they don’t understand that process – who’s to blame?
The app uses a hidden menu that only users of higher-than-average digital literacy understand and so not everyone fully understands what is on offer – who’s to blame?
The passenger is concerned they haven’t actually bought a flight when their check-in process tries to up-sell them a specific seat and they need to call a relative to sort it for them – who’s to blame?
Spoiler alert: the team who designed the experience.
I use the term ‘blame’ advisedly because each situation clearly involves fault, and thus responsibility must reside somewhere. Common to each situation is an experience that, for various reasons, solves only some of the users’ problems completely, solves others without adequate subtlety, context or accuracy, and doesn’t solve others at all.
Experience design, whether focused on digital or on service delivery, provides design teams with the frameworks to ask good questions, to desanitise design and to put themselves in the customer’s shoes.
More than ever, we need to get design out of the lofty, sanitised environs of the boardroom and into the real world.
Until that happens, leaders will remain blissfully unaware that turd-cake experiences are unequivocally and unambiguously their fault.
By Gareth Dunlop
Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy that helps ambitious organisations get the most from their digital products by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include UX strategy, usability testing, customer journey planning and accessibility. Clients include Three, Bord Bia, Firmus Energy, Kingspan, AIB and Tesco Mobile.
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