ATM door teaches importance of good UXD

Since your website is typically your most important marketing communications asset, it pays to focus on delivering the best possible user experience. User experience (UX) design has become a core discipline in web development. And rightly so, because despite our best efforts to predict how people will use our sites, it is very hard to do. That’s because the moment we know what a button should do, we can no longer view it from the perspective of someone who has no preconceived notion.

So what? Well, if you’re selling products on your website, you may be interested in the story of the “$300 million button,” which demonstrates that studying user behavior can uncover the need for small changes on your site that can have enormous consequences. Let me cite an experience in the real world that dramatizes this point.

push-to-exitThis photo shows a button on the exit door of an ATM enclosure that I use frequently. A while back the bank installed a security system on the door requiring you to swipe your ATM card to enter. Once inside, the door locks behind you and to exit you must push the little green button next to the door handle. Simple enough, thought the door designer (read: art director, web designer or information architect).

Except that it wasn’t that simple. To exit the enclosure, virtually all the ATM users who are locked inside and are ready to exit do the same thing. They press and released the green button, and then push the door only to find that it does not open! There is a small but important nuance between what the button says (“Push to exit”) and what it should have said (“Press and hold button while pushing door open”).

If you visit the ATM enclosure today you will see not one, but two poorly-produced signs taped all around the green button that say “To Open Door: Push and hold button while opening door. Thank you!”

atm-insideI talked to the people at the bank and found out that they have received many panicked cell phone calls from people trapped in the ATM enclosure. Of course this prompted the clever bank employees to do their best to fix the door designer’s error by taping up those signs. But the signs didn’t solve the problem, because people don’t read instructions! (Just like people do not read instructions on web pages.) They just do what is intuitive — they press and release the button and try to push open the door.

I propose that the “Don’t Make Me Think” idea of web design is more important than ever with the growing use of smart phones and tablets for web surfing. Why? Well, not only does it need to be very clear to a user what a button will do, but it needs to be more clear than ever what IS or is NOT a button (or link).

Why? Because on a tablet or smart phone you do not have the benefit of the cursor arrow changing to a hand when you roll over a link – the only way to tell if something is a link is either (a) the designer made it very obvious like the button on the left, or (b) you click on it and see if anything happens. Please – don’t make me think!


If you haven’t conducted formal usability testing on your website recently, it’s overdue. Schedule it today. Check out my post on usability testing.

Originally published October 4, 2010, on Callahan Creek’s blog.

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