Ever experienced that warm, happy feeling when you walk back to your desk and your bluetooth peripheral (say, a speaker) automatically re-connects to your smartphone? Felt good, didn’t it? Now imagine this: you’re playing music on the bluetooth speaker; every time you leave your desk and get back, you have to manually pair your phone with the speaker again. Horrible, isn’t it. If technology knew to un-pair when not in range, it should know to pair up when back in range; such device behavior is expected by the user and if not addressed, leads to a poor user experience.
This is the subject of this article: incomplete user experiences. Designers need to consciously make design decisions to prevent such incomplete user experiences. We will look at 3 different experiences which fall under this category to gain a better understanding about this crucial design topic. In conclusion, I will discuss about how I try to address this for my projects.
The scenario with the bluetooth speaker I mentioned previously inspired me write this article. I had the pleasure of experiencing two contrasting experiences, both with bluetooth peripherals. The first device was a BT speaker with an in-built battery and as expected, the speaker automatically paired with my phone whenever in range. Good experience, happy user.
The second device was for a different environment. It was a BT audio transmitter for a car’s sound system. You pair your phone with the device which is plugged in to the AUX port in the car. Now, you stream audio to this device and your car suddenly has a BT sound system. Simple and effective.
The caveat here is that this device needs to be tiny to not hinder regular use of the car and its various storage compartments. This means it can have only a tiny battery and is not ON and searching for your phone all the time. What happens now if you leave the car and come back after sometime? Will it still keep searching for your phone like Nemo’s dad? Or will it just not care and go about its work like Sid’s (the sloth in Ice Age) family? The answer is, the latter. It doesn’t have a battery large enough to stay turned ON and so every time the user is out of range, it shuts itself off and needs to be manually turned back on and paired when we get back into the car. Frustrating, to say the least.
So, how could this incomplete experience be designed better? What if the device had the capability to sense atleast any one of the following: Door opening/closing noise; car ignition noise; car movement when occupants enter and sit in; car’s electronics being powered ON etc. Sensors to detect these do not require much power and the battery in there is more than capable of powering them for the better part of a week at minimum. If it detected these, it could then be designed to automatically turn on and search for the user’s phone. A complete circle.
Audi: the German automaker synonymous with producing class leading luxury sedans designed to please and comfort the user. Though true, even they have some incomplete experiences one of which I had the displeasure of experiencing. Here it is:
In these luxury cars, the rear glass window has a screen which can be activated by a button. It is motorized and goes up and down controlled by that button.
I used it frequently to stop sunlight from directly hitting the inside of the car and warming it up. I loved this feature and it was really useful, until one day when I noticed this: The screen was up and I had to reverse the car to turn around. Common sense says I cannot see behind me with the screen up. As I shifted the gear into reverse, the screen automatically dropped down. Isn’t that awesome?! Excellent user experience design right there. But, where the designers fell short was following up with this excellent action: what happens when the car is shifted back into Drive and begins moving forward again? I expected the screen to go back up but alas, it just stayed down. I even gave it sometime to check if it had a set delay before going back up, incase there was more reversing coming up, but it did not. An incomplete experience right there. Since I, the user, had the screen up before reversing, I expect it to come back up again. I appreciate it automatically going down while reversing but it needs to know to come back up again. This is not difficult to correct and shows a sliver of inattention to user experience by Audi. A shame for an otherwise wonderful car.
*Note: this was for the A4 model in India; I haven’t had the opportunity to test this with cars in other markets*.
Chevy High Country SUV. This is one massive vehicle, especially when someone with a smaller physique like mine sits inside, haha!
The car being tall had a stepping rail under the door to help climb up and into the car. This had a neat feature built in: when all the doors were closed, the rail folded into the car, below the door to protect it from being scraped against another surface when parking/driving (maybe?). When any door was opened, they came back out almost immediately. I don’t know about its usefulness, but it is implemented partially well I’ll say. I thought to myself, what happens if I am standing on the rail and all the doors are closed when I am still on it; will they still retract making me fall down? The answer is yes, it retracts back into the car. Another incomplete experience.
Shouldn’t the car detect the presence of an object on the rail by the added weight and stop it from being retracted? It sure is not difficult to implement. Now, you might think why someone would want to stand on it when doors are closed. Here are a few example scenarios: You are cleaning the top of the roof and want to close the doors to prevent dirt entering the car; you want to put baggage on top of the car and close the doors to lean on them for support; you playfully stand on the support when the car is parked and your friends close all the doors (JK); you get the picture. Granted, there are better methods to do these activities but you cannot stop users from doing whatever they want to with/on their cars, can you?
The above 3 experiences, hopefully, helped you understand what I meant by incomplete experiences. You delight the user with a well thought out, well intentioned and well implemented design, but there is no follow through; it is like a waitress making you feel warm, welcomed and comfortable, taking your order and making you feel happy only to never return to you again with the food. It feels incomplete doesn’t it?
As users, we have to understand that designers do not do this intentionally. As designers, we need to be aware of these unintended effects of our designs. Here are a few methods I use to prevent incomplete experiences:
This is a useful activity to perform. Backtracking lets me observe activities in reverse order on a prototype, on a 3D model or sometimes even on a 2D drawing. When I do this, it often points out flaws or inconsistencies in the flow of the task.
This is done by physically acting out or engaging with the design. Useful for low-fi sketch mockups for digital designs or for a physical looks-like prototype. Lets me visualize a user engaging with the design and points out areas of frustration or delight. It also helps to get another person to engage with the design and observe their behavior.
Compare to existing
This one shouldn’t surprise you; it is always good to compare your design/task flow/activity with another similar design to check if you forgot to pay attention to some aspect of the user experience. It doesn’t mean your design has to do exactly what the compared one does, but should be used as a means to gain additional insight.
As an ID student, I usually do not have time at the end of the project to build out a high fidelity working prototype and so often am not able to test my designs with users. But, I am well aware of the risk of not testing the design enough. When users actually perform activities with the designed object, numerous insights are exposed, some we never could have anticipated. But, testing the design is only as effective as the questions the participants are asked and the tasks they’re asked to perform with the design. This is as crucial as the design itself and is a topic for a future post.
If you think I missed out something important relevant to this topic or if you have additional/different methods you use, I’d like to know about them; please write to me directly or put in a comment below. Till then, let us design experiences that feel complete and satisfying.