UX, UI, Web Design and a Toaster Oven

Toaster oven

If you look around, you’ll find web design inspiration everywhere. Last week, I was inspired by the toaster oven, but not in a good way.

Imagine you’re hired to develop a website for a client. The first thing you must determine is the goal of the website, which will drive the key performance indicators (KPIs). Typically, we’ll want to develop the website to drive to most qualified users to the appropriate KPIs.

Don’t worry, I am getting to the toaster oven soon. I know you can’t wait.

Before the site is launched, it must be designed. Often designers will perform some level of usability testing, which may include internal and external user testing. This is done to ensure that the target user (who may or may not have good web skills) can actually find the KPIs. If people can’t find what you’re selling, then you’re probably not going to sell a lot of stuff.

Now, back to the toaster oven, which we purchased based largely on the reputation of the brand. Remember, “reputation” is often due to good marketing.

The toaster oven we bought was the super-deluxe, all the best features model. We placed it on the counter and, being it was close to dinner, we decided to use it. (Hang in there, this is going somewhere.)

Cooking with this unit was terrific. It heated up quickly and evenly. It was spacious and well constructed. So what’s the problem? Well, um, we couldn’t turn it off.

There were four knobs down the right side of the unit. The first problem was that the knobs were shiny chrome and the words were beveled silver. Very sexy design, but completely unreadable unless you leaned alllll the way in and squinted.

The second and more important problem was a major design flaw. So, four knobs, right? Where would you expect the “on” and “off” button? Probably knob #1 or #4 right? Well, this one had it as knob #3. That’s right, the “off” button was the third one down.

So, I did a little bit of usability testing. I had four people of different ages try to use the toaster oven for user experience. Each had to lean their faces dangerously close to read the buttons. Then, when I asked them how to turn it off, nobody could. Not one person. (Okay, one did. She just unplugged it from the wall.)

Needless to say, nobody wants a toaster oven that doesn’t turn off. (Poor user experience.) This usability flaw was just unsafe, so we returned it and carefully examined the knobs to make sure we could work the damn thing. I wondered if this appliance belonged on the Island of Misfit Toys.

Poor usability experiences make you more aware of UX design and interface. There is a temptation to rush design, especially when your website needs to launch on a certain date. But if you’re the brand manager or marketing manager of a brand, you should insist on a minimum level of usability testing. Specifically, make sure the target user can actually use your website to find the conversion goals and other KPIs.

Otherwise, you’re going to discover that users can do what I did with the toaster oven. They’re going to pull the plug and find something that actually works.

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