Sometimes, I talk to friends who think I still work in advertising copywriting. When I tell them I now write about UX, they go, “Uhm… user experience? What is that?”

I smile like a proud sensei who knows he’s about to blow a young protégé’s mind and reply, “Look around you, Young Grasshopper… user experience is everywhere.”

But I don’t think it should be that way.

Anyone who uses a phone, computer or the Internet should know what UX is because it affects us all.




I decided to explore five everyday situations that prove the point .

1. Self-checkout kiosks that make you stand idly, like a Billy No-Mates

There are two types of supermarket self-checkout kiosks – the not-entirely-awful ones and the dear-god-kill-me-now ones.

“Unexpected item in the bagging area. Please remove item! Unexpected item in the bagging area. Please remove item!”

But the screen is telling me that my item has been scanned.

And have you ever tried to find items without barcodes in the groceries catalogue? Are tomatoes under fruits or vegetables?

May Cthulhu give you strength if you’re trying to buy something really weird – like dragon fruit. Then you’d better grab your Glastonbury tent (if it survived) and settle in for the long wait until an attendant arrives.

Even BuzzFeed had a go at self-checkout machines – but it didn’t make the connection with UX. That’s what we’re here for, I guess.

2. Mom or grandma calling you up every time they need to send an email

When mobile phones became mainstream, I gained the unwanted title of Only Son/Tech Support. Things got worse as laptops, netbooks and tablets became more popular.

Whenever the Internet confused her, my mom called me. She called me in boarding school. She called me on holiday. She calls me now (but mostly to check up on me).

Why? Some companies design their products and interfaces with the latest fad in mind, without first making sure these gimmicks are user-friendly. (QR codes anyone?)

People aged 55 years and above make up 29% of the UK population – don’t just focus on the “millennials” because that’s what’s cool.

And I know older people aren’t inherently technologically illiterate – that would be a silly generalisation. My mom’s older brother taught me how to use InDesign.

But there are arguments for doing user research with older people – e.g. many may have vision problems. Or you may be trying to introduce technology that’s familiar to very young people but very alien to older people.

I guess that’s why The User Is My Mom is a real website where you can run UX tests with a real-life mom.

3. Missing your train because the ticket machine is taking its sweet time

Sometimes we all arrive at the station with little or no time to spare before our train departs. Let’s assume you have 2 minutes.

Huzza! There’s no one at the ticket machines.

But you soon realise that a queue would’ve simply been an obstacle course leading to your real foe – the ticket machine itself.

Ticket Machine Instructions
Train ticket vending machines are so intuitive, this railway company had to make a series of instructional videos to explain them…

First you need to type in your destination and those touchscreen “keyboards” aren’t the most responsive. You’ve tapped the letter “B” six bleeding times now and it’s still not responding.

This stage alone can last a minute – if you’re going somewhere that isn’t on the list of popular destinations.

Then there’s the time the machine takes to load in between each screen. You may feel like shouting, “You’re a modern computer – should it really take you 10 seconds to process the fact that I want return tickets?”

And while all that’s happening, your train is pulling out of the station and you’re going to be late to the party.

4. Having a computer that’s gone the wrong kind of viral

In case you didn’t know it, online advertising is embroiled in a long-running corruption scandal.

Shady deals. Fake impressions. Bot traffic. Spam. Pop-overs that you can’t close. Click-bait articles that make you click onto a new page for the next 10 words, just so they can serve you more ads.

Spyware masquerading as an online ad – a friend accidentally infected her computer this way just a few days ago. But in general, online ads can make your browsing experience slower, more confusing and less safe.


Considering how much of the Internet is occupied by online ads, it boggles my mind that neither the buyers nor sellers of online advertising seem to have invested in UX.

The industry is burying its head in the sand about the fact that more people than ever are using ad blockers.

Instead, it should be investing in UX testing and research to find out in which context and under what terms people are willing to accept online ads.

The next stage in the evolution of the Internet will be driven by user-friendly design. Why? The best businesses dominate the rest largely because they offer a better UX. To catch up, everyone else is starting to invest in UX.

We’ll get to the point where good UX isn’t a competitive advantage but the least people expect of businesses.

In the end, there’ll be the parts of the Internet that are user-friendly and the parts that went extinct. Survival of the fittest (or friendliest) in action.

5. Children’s gadgets that children can’t use – meaning you’re always on the clock

My nephews often got bored or confused with some of the “children’s educational computers” they had.

Even though they learned to operate iPads and iPhones on their own, and were completely proficient by the time they were 4.

It makes me wonder how many of the interfaces designed for children are actually tested with children? Like this not-so-wonderful contraption getting not-so-great reviews from parents.

How does that affect us? Well, I don’t know about you guys but my nephews seemed to be powered by rocket fuel when they were younger.

And when kids aren’t engaged or learning through the devices you’ve bought specifically for that purpose, you basically don’t get a break.