Design vs UX when lives are on stake

My old Nissan Primera dated back to 1997. It’s air-conditioner control panel looked like this…

aa_primera

You can think it’s kind of ugly. In fact is kind of ninetish and was quite common in every brand, with some tiny differences. You have three controls.

  • Where do you want the air to come from (left).
  • How cold do you want it (center).
  • How strong do you want it (right).

Nowadays the cars have changed. They usually incorporate a screen that works as standard output for whatever you’re setting in the car, from the time and date to your favorite radio channels.

And, unlucky of me, its the output to the air-conditioning system too.

Let’s check how this systems perform in two basic scenarios.

  • Use case #1: Finding out the current setting.
    • 90’s design: You just give a quick glance to the operation panel. With some experience, you even don’t need to do it visually. You can check the current settings by touch. From one to three steps.
    • 21st century’s design: You need to push the ‘temperature’ button. Then you look at the screen to see the current value. Then you push the ‘speed’ button and look again at the screen to see the current value. Finally you push the ‘direction’ button and check the value on the screen. Six steps. And as the buttons are seamlessly integrated in the dashboard, and the feedback is visual only, there’s no way you can tel how the system is operating without looking at it.
  • Use case #2: Modifying some current setting.
    • 90’s design: You know what roulette you need to modify just looking at the labels around the roulette. You locate the value you’re aiming for and move the roulette to this position. Two steps.
    • 21st century’s design: You need to locate the button you need to push to set the roulette on the proper operation mode, e.g. ‘temperature’. Then you push the button. Then you grab the roulette and move it while looking at the screen so you can see the feedback for your action. Four steps.

So to change one setting you needed four to eight steps with my old car, depending if you didn’t want to take your sight out of the road, while you must perform sixteen steps with my new car.

The advantages of the brave old system are:

  • You can use it without looking at it.The controls shape, size and position allow easy location and manipulation, by touch.
  • You can see the current settings, every time, at a glance. Since the control is a roulette that maps with the available settings. With some practice, you can even find the current setting out by touch, while looking to the road.

The beautiful design is always the one who is thought to be operated, not to be seen. The beautiful design is the one that offers the best user experience, specially if the most important thing to do is staying focused at the road.

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The power of details

You asked me for a coffee. But I’m not going to give you a coffee. I’m going to give you a quiet place, with soft jazz music, comfortable chairs, pleasant decoration and a sweet cookie.

… Ah! And I’m also bringing you a coffee. But not any coffee. Our coffee with a signature crafted on the foam.

A cup of coffee. The bartender has written the name of the bar with coffee over the coffee's foam

You ask for a coffee. I’m giving you a nice and relaxing remarkable moment.

 

Related: Seth Godin on remarkable experiences.

Babel and GUI design

If you’re in a foreign country, and you’re in a hurry, and you need cash, the last thing you need is an unclear GUI in your cash machine.

onSpanish

The GUI above, take your knowledge of spanish for granted. You’d better know how your language is spelled in spanish, or you’re doomed.
The following option at least give you a chance in case you’re familiar with flags.

slightlyBetterApproach

But colonialism, globalization and migration started many years ago. And because of them, flags and languages are not strongly related anymore.
You could make your user’s life easier by means of writing the word for each language in the language itself.

muchBetterApproach

This should be easy at least for language names that can be written by means of Unicode characters. It could be harder for languages with its own alphabet, such as russian, chinese or greek. But if your ATM can work with those languages, you should be at least as good as Wikipedia is.

WikipediaDidItRight

User experience and the broken bill

If you change the way you charge your customers, please try not to frighten them.

If you are charging them once every other month, don’t let their bills convince them that you’ve charged them twice as the previous months!

 broken_bill

Shouldn’t have been possible to send a clearer bill? Maybe something like this…

better_bill

Something that communicated the change in the billing system without adding noise.

Something that informed customers instead of made them worry.

Something that made their customer a bit happier.

The good, the bad, and the ugly: user experience on a high-speed train

Sign on the AVE train to help you choose the right seat. The window is on the left, the aisle on the right.

Sign on the AVE train to help you choose the right seat. The window is on the left, the aisle on the right.

The good, the bad, and the ugly before a trip from Madrid to Zaragoza in the Alta Velocidad Española AVE train.

The good, the little rectangle that represents the window. It’s so easy to know if your seat number belongs to the one next to the window or the one next to the aisle.

The bad, the sign is in reverse order. You’re in the aisle while you’re reading the sign, so the closer number should be the one belonging to the aisle (e.g. 16B)

The ugly, you’ve to guess which button turns your light on. There’s no indication whatsoever. They could have put the buttons on the left and right of the light bulbs making it crystal clear, but I suppose they didn’t because of cost restrictions on the electric circuitry.

Unintuitive learnability

Air conditioning control on a moving vehicle

An air conditioning vent. In a moving bus is not so easy to distinguish the zero and the square

If you want to turn on the air conditioning, you should select the open square. The rounded square is a zero, to turn it off.

Why not using a more conventional approach that has been in use in TV remote controls for years?

Alternative labelling for air conditioning controls

I suggest the plus and minus signs, that are more universal than zeros and squares