At some time or another we all become victims of confusing user interfaces and poorly executed information design. Ordinarily the effects are inconsequential. We tolerate the shortcoming, adapt and move on.

In some cases it’s more difficult to ignore. Poorly designed products and systems can cost us more than headaches; they can cost us time and money. In the most extreme cases, the results can be fatal. S. M. Casey documented some deadly design mishaps in his “Set Phasers on Stun: And Other True Tales of Design, Technology, and Human Error.”

Lately, I’ve had a string of bad luck with convoluted design. While none has been life threatening, some of the experiences have put a dent in my wallet…

Example 1: The Impenetrable Interface
Challenge: Negotiating my cell phone’s call-waiting feature.
Cost: Frustration, impatience and accidental rudeness

I finally got my first cell phone – a Samsung – a year or so ago. Now I’m a manual reader and I read the manual for this phone. I know how to work many of the functions. However, when I receive a call while I’m already on the line with someone else, I have a hard time switching over.

Instinctively I click the far right button – the one I use to answer calls. It seems reasonable that this would toggle through a series of calls. In this case, nothing happens. The id on my screens blinks and I panic, pushing the next button down which only serves to disconnect the current caller.

After rudely hanging up on my friends a handful of times, I consulted the manual. It turns out that I should be pushing the “send” button (which I use to initiate a call) to switch between callers. Intuitive? Not very.

It’s essential that product designers employ human factors considerations when integrating features into a device. Considering the overall user experience throughout that integration process, may be an area in which phone manufacturers can take a competitive lead and begin to differentiate themselves.

…more to follow

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