Imagine the last time we went to the latest, cool restaurant.
We walk in, are greeted, there's probably a wait since, you know, those new hot restaurants always have a wait and rarely take reservations. But it's a new experience so it's worth it. We're excited about the food we've heard about or read about. It's the new style of cuisine or a new merging of flavors or the latest artisanal version of a classic.
We sit down, read through our menus, chat about what we're thinking of trying or heard was amazing. The lighting is low.
The waiter comes by to tell us the specials, take drink orders, hoping we'll go for the sparkling water. We get tap of course.
When he comes back with the drinks he's expecting to take our order for dinner.
I can't tell you about the food, I wasn't there. But I can describe the entire experience of going to a restaurant and so can you. It's a system that has been honed and sharpened to efficiency over centuries. It hasn't changed much over time really. Sure, at the end we now hand over our credit card and we wait for the card to come back to sign these odd slips of paper. But it's otherwise unchanged.
Yet think of the last time you had a bad experience at a restaurant. Someone cuts the line and grabs a seat. Or the waiter forgets your food order. Or the place is cash only. These breakdowns in the system are often shocking and upsetting experiences that don't go over very well, especially with expectant, hungry people.
I had a seemingly nice woman lose it the other day because I nearly took "her" table. Nevermind that the waiter had told me to sit there. I happily gave her and her friends the table. After she sat, calmed down and ordered her food, she politely leaned over and apologized, a sweet, quick smile from a perfectly normal person. She'd returned to her regular, public, self.
We all have moments when something doesn't work right and we suddenly become this aggressive, self-aggrandizing little beasts. It's nearly always because a system we're used to breaks down. Our expectations have been broken and it brings out the worst in us; we take it personally and strive to defend ourselves.
It's stressful to see a system suddenly feel like its working against you. We expect a restaurant to work a certain way. We expect to do certain actions at a certain time and to receive a certain service. We expect the people serving us to deliver everything we imagine. But it's not just in restaurants. These expectations are everywhere. They exist within every social interaction and transaction we participate in.
As designers, we have to understand these expectations. It's not the day-in-the-life diagram or the ecosystem map. We must understand what our users expect to happen when they tap or swipe or click. We must know that their expectations exist even when encountering a completely new application. We may have created a new cuisine but the restaurant is still a restaurant, the phone is still their phone, the laptop is still their laptop. Right or wrong they've worked out a way of using the systems that we design but in their own, often unique ways.
The first step of design should be understanding what our users expect. We may always want to have a unique product and a unique experience but breaking users' expectations and unleashing their little beasts is not a sign of uniqueness, it's a sign of failure and an opportunity to learn. Start by knowing what they think will happen. Start with the analogies to other scenarios in their lives, in your own life.
Try asking these four questions:
- What problem are you solving for your customer?
- How are they currently solving it or something similar?
- What are the actions taken in that interaction?
- How can you use or simplify those actions in your own product?
Draw that up. Prototype it out. Put it in front of someone. You may be surprised by what they expected. Let me know what you think.