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What the Office Coffeemaker Taught Me About UX Design

I'd just about given up on the office coffee machine. I'd swipe my credit card, the machine would say it was processing, and then... nothing. No failure, no success. But about 1 out of 10 times, it worked.

I told the office manager, who said - "It works for me." I figured it was a network problem - the little cellphone antenna in a windowless break room just couldn't get a solid connection.

Then I was at a Memphis Redbirds game, and tried to swipe my card to buy some food. The teenage kid slinging fries had some expertise I lacked: "You have to tap it. If you swipe it won't work." That turned out to be true.

I hadn't even noticed that the credit card company had added a "tap" symbol on the card. I certainly had not thought that the coffee machine, whose directions said "Swipe or Tap Your Card" could be operating the same way.

But the next workday I tapped my card on the coffee machine. And it worked 100%. I would have been a loyal customer, maybe spending $150 a year on coffee.... but there was a small UX problem. The directions weren't clear. I was using it wrong, and had almost no way to find out.

The lesson is clear: watch people use your website, App or product. Watch enough people until you ruthlessly spot and remove these kinds of problems.

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