Usability Impacts Decisions

Petrol Station
Credit: flickr / muehlinghaus

My boyfriend and I both hate filling up the car with gas. We live 3 blocks from one gas station, and 4 from another. The first time we went to the one 3 blocks away, and it was a giant pain as we tried to work out how to use it. The credit card terminal on the machine doesn’t seem to get the fact that we don’t have an airmiles card, and so we have to pay inside. The second time we filled up there again, and again it was a pain.

The next time we needed gas, we went to the one four blocks away. By contrast, it was easy. We were actually surprised by how painless it was. I doubt we’ll go to the one 3 blocks away ever again.

As computers become more ubiquitous, and systems to replace human interaction more prevalent, there will be more and more situations like this – drive an extra block because that gas station is easier. Pay an extra couple of dollars on your grocery bill because that store has a better self-checkout system. (Not only is the self-checkout at the grocery store I go to a usability nightmare, but the staff are obnoxious and patronizing each time it doesn’t work – it’s infuriating).

Bank websites often have terrible UI’s (I blogged about that ages ago) but as I ponder switching banks one issue is I don’t know what their online banking system will be like. It could be better, but what if it was worse…! Why aren’t they investing in usability, and then showing off how easy it is to bank online? That you can bank online is not enough information – of course you can bank online! It’s 2010!

If software is a restuarant, the functionality of the application is the food. The usability is the service. Great service + great food = great restaurant. Great food + terrible service = good food, but I’m not sure I’d go back again. How many people walked out because the server was ignoring them and they couldn’t get a table? How many fantastic dishes went untried because the customer pondered what to order and the server rolled their eyes and yawned?

I think in this analogy – filling up your car, banking, grocery shopping – these are fast food. There’s no big differentiation between the functionality of one, or it’s competitors. Usability is potentially the differentiator, so don’t encourage your customers to drive an extra block – that’s just stupid.

2 thoughts on “Usability Impacts Decisions

  1. It is actually 4 vs 5 blocks by count 😉

    But whatever, I guess the question then becomes what the threshold is. If where 10 blocks vs 5 blocks which would you choose? Or 20 blocks vs 5 blocks? How about 30 blocks and so on?

    It is annoying to have an interface you dislike but then it is more inconvenient to travel further so the battle rages on.

    I guess the other problem is interfaces are to at least some degree personal. I got into a discussion about paying bills with a coworker the other day. He liked everything automatic whereas I prefer logging in and paying each manually when they arrive some I can keep track of them in my mind and monitor for errors. I suppose the guy with the air miles credit card is probably happy at the first station. The rest of us are not!

  2. It is actually 4 vs 5 blocks by count 😉

    But whatever, I guess the question then becomes what the threshold is. If where 10 blocks vs 5 blocks which would you choose? Or 20 blocks vs 5 blocks? How about 30 blocks and so on?

    It is annoying to have an interface you dislike but then it is more inconvenient to travel further so the battle rages on.

    I guess the other problem is interfaces are to at least some degree personal. I got into a discussion about paying bills with a coworker the other day. He liked everything automatic whereas I prefer logging in and paying each manually when they arrive some I can keep track of them in my mind and monitor for errors. I suppose the guy with the air miles credit card is probably happy at the first station. The rest of us are not!

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