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When failure isn't positive

User experience is key to a product or services success. It really is an area where failure is not good ! Something we all need, to know our actions have results, to get validation, to engage with others is FEEDBACK. Without it we don't have a measure of ourselves and this human need is a crucial part of design.

After a team member's recent frustrating experience we've compiled some tips on how to design for the best user experience and make your product or service a joy to use.

The background story

''Boarding a bus last week I had an unusually disconcerting experience using the smart scanner which accepts tickets and contactless payments. Using a payment card to pay for a ticket is already slightly odd, you position it in a space, wait for something to indicate payment has been made, usually looking at a small screen for ‘’payment approved’’. There isn’t a perceptible sound to confirm it has happened like other contactless systems. Sometimes a glance between passenger and driver confirms the action, a silent exchange of

‘’has it worked?’’ ‘’yes it has you’ve paid’’ ‘’ok great I can stop waving my debit card in this space then’’.

Very unsatisfactory needing a human to confirm a machine has completed a basic function.

On this particular journey these usability failings were amplified. Boarding the nicely decked out bus with grey leather seats I tried to pay for a ticket and nothing happened , and worse I had no idea why. The smart scanner screen was now HIDDEN behind a grey strip (which nicely coordinated with the grey leather seats) , I couldn’t see any information on the screen. What had happened , had my card been declined, was there a problem with the ticket printing machine, was the system frozen - what? Something about standing in front of a machine in a time pressured situation makes time go so slow. As your embarrassment builds the milliseconds drag more. After an eternity the driver asked me if I had cash as the system was down. Thankfully I did, got a ticket, sat down and recovered my composure! ''

A seemingly trivial change to décor has a big impact on the CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE. It is a usability fail but more critically it makes people feel incompetent. If you have difficulty using something and you don’t have privacy to practice you tend to shy away from repeating the experience. Maybe you get a different bus, take a train , walk, cycle, hail a taxi, order an uber.

Your customer has other options if the experience is bad.

Key tips to maximise success when designing your user experience:

Give Feedback

Let people know the result of their actions. We need a pat on the back to know we’ve done the right thing. A ‘ping’ to confirm success, verbal confirmation, a colour change, written info. Feedback can be given in many ways but it is key to remember 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual.

90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual


All different types of people will be using your product or service. In the case of buses the user variance is huge. Having to rely on the driver speaking to you is difficult if you can’t hear. Define who your users are and their characteristics, design for them not for you. Test your designs with your users.


A simple physical exercise would have shown that the addition of the grey strip caused an issue. I suspect this was a case of the bus function design and the bus aesthetic design being done by two disparate teams. Mock up ideas and run through scenarios frequently. Bad design can have a way of sticking around if not tested early. It is hard to get rid of things when they are bolted onto a bus much easier to discard an idea when it is cardboard.


Your users come to your product with a level of expectation and experience. I was expecting to see the screen and couldn’t. The information previously available was missing and that makes the user feel unsure and stupid. The experience had changed. If our ego is dented, or if things take too long we tend to avoid doing it again. This doesn't just apply to changing an existing product or process. If your thing is new think about what similar experiences and products exist , how people use them and what they might be expecting from your product or service.

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