The day started like many others had in the past. The alarm went off on my phone, and I rolled out of bed in a strange bedroom…
…because I was in an Airbnb of course! This time I was on a business trip, volunteering and facilitating a 3 Day Startup event at Texas A&M University. I was really excited to get back into the action going on inside Startup Aggieland, but first there was the usual brushing my teeth, taking a shower, and getting dressed for the day. But in those three steps, something would go horribly, terribly wrong.
I stepped into the bathtub, and closed the curtain. I turned on the water using one of the common and expected interfaces for water flow and temperature control. It was clearly labeled, and I could tell which way to turn the dial to make the water warmer or cooler. Because of the familiar interface, a calm confidence washed over me. I was in charge, I could get my day going in just a matter of minutes.
I got the water to a temperature of my liking, adjusted the shower head and then.. And then something frightening happened.
It wasn’t clear to me how to turn on the shower, so I tried some of the usual interface patterns.
I pulled on the temperature knob: Nothing happened.
I pushed it in: Nothing.
I fiddled with the switches on the shower and though they seemed to affect the water flowing from the bath faucet in various ways (like making fun gurgling sounds) none of them made water come out of the shower head. NONE OF THEM.
Right when I was about to give up and start splashing water up on myself from the bath faucet to get various parts of me wet where I could then wash myself one section at a time, google provided me with the answer to the question.
That piece of metal.. That piece that could easily be just part of the water spout. As if by magic, if you pull it down (or push it up, I cant even remember anymore) activates the shower head.
After 7 minutes of messing around, and finally using google search, I was able to turn on the shower.
This interface is so terrible, there is even a youtube video demonstrating this process, and a TON of user feedback talking about how stupid this nozzle made them feel. This is not a good thing.
Well what is the problem you may ask?
If a user experience or user interface is so complicated you have to use a search engine to figure out how to navigate it, the designer has failed.
Unfortunately this seems to be the norm in a lot of computer software. We search and search to try to figure out how to do that one, simple, necessary and common thing and we’ve accepted this as the way things are. Would you put up with this kind of blatantly failing design in real life? Would you want to take 5-15 minutes every time you visit a new Airbnb just to figure out how to take a shower?
As my Director of UX constantly reminds me, a good user experience must feel natural. It should be as if the app is intuitively guiding you through your workflow. A good user interface should make liberal use of common paradigms that we’ve all become used to, and not try to play any tricks on us, or try to get too clever.
That control you’re pressing shouldn’t have random gotchas that make you accidentally delete your work.
Copy and paste should work the way you expect between windows in the same application.
Unfortunately we use tools daily where these two simple expectations and many others just aren’t part of our reality.
It takes a lot of on the job experience, user research, feedback, and professional engineering to create user experiences that really shine. Don’t cut corners. Put the time in, and it will pay off with satisfied users and higher profit margins.
And for the love of all that is good in the world, if you have one of the faucets mentioned in this article, please replace it before your place ends up being someone else’s nightmare.