Don’t Buy a Microwave Without Numbers

Laura Giannola User Experience

Why User Experience Matters

In talking about house renovations with a friend, we reached the topic of microwave styles. “We’re trying to decide between a microwave that’s an under-cabinet mount or traditional above-the-stove style of a microwave,” said my friend.  My response was “Just don’t buy a microwave that doesn’t have numbers like we have,” which was followed by a “Wait, what?!” response from my friend.

Yes, microwaves without a number keypad do exist and I happen to have one. You may wonder: But how do you enter a time to cook something for? How do you set the clock time? How do you set the timer? And how the heck do you use a microwave without numbers? (Answer for those interested: there is a round dial that you turn to replace the number keypad, but you can only change the time by 15-second increments.)

These usability questions were all obstacles I faced when I went to use the microwave for the first time in my new house. Previously, I never had to think about how to use a microwave and you probably haven’t had to either. The company (who shall not be named publicly here) who decided to remove the standard, user-friendly number keypad made a huge error in the consumer usability of their product. When you make people think to use your product it creates a poor user experience, which can lead to negative PR, lack of product usage, lower product recommendations, and ultimately lower sales.

This basic usability principle of “Don’t make me think!” comes from Steve Krug’s book by the same name. While my microwave usability experience is focused on an everyday life example, Krug’s focus on this concept is web and mobile usability. This overall usability principle should be applied to all marketing and communications efforts as well as product design. Generally, people are busy and don’t want to take extra steps or learn something new to get to the result.

Causing people to think (more than the necessary amount), can result in user drop-off. If you can’t figure out why people aren’t interacting with your website the way you would like them to, take a step back and see what you are requiring of your audience. Are you making your audience think? Work on refining your user experience to direct users to take action as clearly as possible.

There are other usability best practices seen in everyday life that would only be recognized if they were changed. Have you noticed that the letters of the rows in stadiums skip over I, O, and Q? That’s because people often confuse these letters with the numbers 1 and 0, so to avoid confusion (and to improve the customer’s experience at the stadium) these letters are rarely used to mark rows. Think about this real-world example the next time you are looking at font selections for a project. Characters and numbers should be easily distinguishable or else consumers will need to think about what you are trying to communicate.

It’s highly important to apply best usability practices to your assets (digital or physical) to make the best customer impression. Making a positive customer impact can drive repeat usage, positive recommendations, and ultimately a product sale or desired end goal. Real-word usability successes (and failures) can be points of inspiration for you in creating your usability success.

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