On Ovens, Bad UX, and Customer Loyalty

Bad user experience is a slow-acting poison for customer relationships. Small frustrations build up over time and, if left unchecked, will send customers to more intuitive pastures.

Angry Microwave

Let me give a specific example: I hate the UX of the microwave and oven at my apartment. Absolutely hate it. Let me count the ways:

  1. When I set a timer on the oven, it doesn't display the time remaining but the temperature. I have to push the "Bake Time" button every time I want to see the amount of time remaining.
  2. If I happen to press the "Bake Time" button twice, it cancels the timer.
  3. There is no way to stop the timer's beeping without turning off the oven, so when I set a timer to turn or check something, I have to use the microwave's timer, which brings me to...
  4. The microwave timer is set by pushing "Timer", entering a time, and pressing "Timer" again. Pressing "Start" does nothing.
  5. Rather than "enter time, press start" this is one of those microwaves with "one touch" starts for one, two or three minutes. I've always disliked that as I rarely want exactly one, two, or three minutes.
  6. I do not know how to enter a cooking time on the microwave. It isn't "press cook time, enter time, press start." I usually just push "one" and then push "add 30 seconds" until it's where I want it to be.

I could go into detail on all of the ways these problems violate UX principles and how they could be improved, but more important is the fact that after enough of these problems built up it caused action on my part. I took a look at the brand (Frigidaire, in this case) and I decided that if I ever am in a position to be buying appliances, I'm going to try to avoid them. I just don't want the headaches.

There hasn't been any problem with the functionality of the products; they both heat up food in the way I expect. But it's unpleasant to use them and small annoyances repeated dozens of times over the course of months add up to one big headache.

So it goes with software. There are 50 different bug trackers out there and I bet that 35 of them were born out of developers who were fed up with the UX of existing solutions. GMail's thread view retroactively made all non-threaded email programs seem to have terrible UX.

UX is much more noticeable when it is bad than when it is good. There are relatively few moments I can think of where software has pro-actively impressed me (wow, that's a great UX) but I can think of dozens of times when it has frustrated me (ugh, I hate how to do ____ I have to ___). Much of the time my decisions to "switch" between products are driven by frustration with what I have more than desire for what I don't.

Make sure that, in addition to adding features and fixing bugs, in additional to building a beautiful UI, you take the time to smooth out your user experience. You may not get praised for it, but it also may prevent your users from throwing up their hands and saying "that's it, I'm looking for something else."