A spooky 3D Halloween scene featuring a ghost, pumpkin, and tombstone.
By Matthew McLaughlin

Spooky User Experience Encounters

October 26th, 2023
7 min read

“You are not your user” a principle taught to designers, researchers, and developers all around the world. And for good reason. Every piece of work we complete as UX professionals needs to be rooted in the needs of the people who will actually use it. Patterns that work for us may not necessarily be right for our users.

Of course, as user experience designers, we have to use different products and services in our daily lives. Because we know how the metaphorical sausage is made, we are more excited and happier when we come across products and services that suit our needs well. On the flip side we can be more critical and unforgiving when we struggle with things.

Let me share a few spine-tingling, real-world encounters that shed light on the importance of user-centred design:

The Perils of Support Navigation

One of these spine-tingling experiences happened recently when I was trying to pre-order a new game that was coming out.

After initially ordering the base version, my impatience got the best of me, and I decided to upgrade to the deluxe version, anticipating that it would grant me early access to play. I thought this would be a straightforward process, and one that many an avid gamer would go through. To my surprise, I quickly realised that I couldn’t make the upgrade on my own; I would need assistance from a support employee. So off I headed to the website in search of a phone number or live chat option.

After working hard to find the support tab I was offered a helpful breakdown of various issue categories. As I navigated through the categories, I could sense I was getting closer to the solution. The content became more specific to my problem, but just when I thought I was about to find a solution, I hit a dead end that directed me to forum posts where others might have discussed similar issues.

While such a forum might be helpful for most problems, it was of no assistance to me. All I needed was direct assistance from a support employee. After a considerable wait, enduring 178 people ahead of me in the queue, I finally accessed the live chat functionality, and with the help of a representative, I was able to resolve my issue.

While this experience was somewhat frustrating, it prompted me to reconsider my stance on the effectiveness of this style of help centre, one I’ve advocated for in the past. In this particular instance, I was well aware that it wouldn’t suffice for me, and I’d require human interaction from the outset. The straightforward solution for me would be to make the live chat feature accessible at any point on the website or allow the system to guide users in self-serving and upgrading.

It’s easy for me to suggest enhancing the visibility of live chat throughout the user journey, but the higher-ups in the C-Suite might have a different perspective. They could be aiming to reduce support costs and encourage users to self-serve more. While this approach has its merits, it could become impractical due to the costs associated with hiring enough staff to address all the issues promptly. Moreover, for the majority of users, it might prolong the process of obtaining answers to simple, frequently asked questions, resulting in a level of frustration similar to the existing system.

The possible solution

Perhaps a more balanced solution would be to introduce screening questions within the live chat, which could filter out users who can resolve their issues independently by directing them to specific issue pages, thus preserving valuable human support for those who truly need it.

What I do know is that when business and organisational needs align, experiences should work harder. For instance, when the organisation aims to increase revenue through upgrades and a user expresses a desire to upgrade, it’s counterproductive for the organisation to intentionally complicate the process by burying live chat in a challenging-to-access support section and making users join a lengthy queue of 174 people.

The Curious Case of Price Mismatch

Everyone likes a good deal right? I don’t think I am the only person who will search for an item on Google in the hope to find the most competitive price among the top reliable retailers. And isn’t it great when we find somewhere that has the same item much cheaper.

Only to find out when you click the link from Google shopping, review the product page and add to cart that the price is double!

Price mismatching can be very frustrating and can force users to spend extra time verifying prices, checking their checkout, questioning their selection and ultimately abandoning the purchase all together.

Bewildering Beverage Choices

Recently, I dined at Five Guys, which isn’t my usual choice, but I’d heard good things and was in the market for a good burger. Upon placing my order, I was handed a cup to get my drink – unlimited refills, nice! As I approached the drink machine, I was initially overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available. There were so many different choices, some of which I had never seen before, and I was tempted to try them all.

After selecting my preferred brand and deciding on an additional flavour, I attempted to dispense the drink by holding down the touch screen, but nothing happened. Confused, I quickly tried a different flavour, feeling a bit foolish. It was only when I took a step back that I finally noticed a silver button with a cup icon illuminated on it. That’s when it hit me – this was how I could get my drink.

While I appreciated the tactile response of the physical button, I found it somewhat perplexing to switch between the touchscreen and the button. I couldn’t help but think that a simple explanatory label or some text could have spared me the confusion and prevented me from feeling silly in the first place.

Some of the newer models of this machine have thankfully fixed this annoyance, with the touch screen dispensing the drink when held down and the large silver button being used to dispense ice.

Reminder: you are not your user

Each of these real-world examples outline the critical role that user centred design plays in shaping our experiences. So, this is your reminder to get in front of your users, watch how they interact with your experiences and gain valuable insights that can lead to meaningful improvements in the way you design and develop your products or services. By embracing the principle “You are not your user,” and actively engaging with your end-users, you can ensure that your experiences truly cater to their needs and preferences, resulting in more user-friendly and effective experiences and thus the bottom line.

Matthew McLaughlin.
Matthew McLaughlin

UX Designer

Passionate about crafting user-centered digital experiences across various devices and contexts, Matthew, a recent Interaction Design graduate from Ulster University Belfast, advocates for inclusive design, emphasizing an iterative, paper-first approach to solve user problems