Dimitris Kontaris
May 15, 2015 · 3 min read

I recently travelled from London to Corfu, a beautiful Greek island where my grandmother lives. I enjoy my visit there every single time. She is a lot of fun to chat with and I’m always blessed with warm milk and her handmade cookies, which I can’t have enough of.

As we were chatting and laughing, one thing stood out to me; her set of keys.

The keys, numbered 1 to 3

She is carrying around a set of 3 keys of almost the same shape and color. On the bow of each key, there is a piece of crudely torn and glued on masking tape, with the numbers 1, 2, and 3 written on it respectively.

Knowing her resourcefulness and recognising her handwriting, it was evident that this was her handiwork. I was intrigued.

“Why are the keys numbered this way?” I asked her, while my hand was scanning the big bowl that was full of cookies.

“Well, there are three doors I need to unlock before I get in the house; the porch, the entrance, and the main door. The numbers on the keys correspond to each door they open, in the order I open them.”, she enthusiastically explained and offered me another cookie.

While I was loudly chewing the last bite of the cookie impatiently scanning the bowl for the next in line, the UX Designer in me couldn’t stop thinking about the keys. It was that brilliance and elegance of this solution to her everyday problem.

Let’s break it down:

Problem definition: We have three doors and an equal number of keys but we don’t know which key opens which door as there is no relevant indication and to make things more complicated, they are all similarly shaped.

Desired outcome: Quickly find the right key for the right door with minimum number of tries.

Limitations: The solution needs to work day and night, for a person in their late 80s with limited vision.

Obviously, one can come up with numerous solutions to this problem, for instance, naming or color coding them. Without considering alternatives, she opted to number them in the exact sequence required to open each door; key number 1 opens the porch (first) door, key number 2 opens the entrance (second) door, and key number three her house (third) door.

To sum up, my grandma, in her late 80s, to whom the term “User Experience” is unbeknown, (as is what I am doing for a living, despite my oversimplified explanations that always boil down to “something with computers”), managed to find a quick, simple, inexpensive and effective solution to a user experience problem she encountered.

Having a deep understanding of the problem, clear expectations of the outcomes, and being fully aware of physical, contextual, and environmental limitations, she was able to quickly come up with a “no brainer” concept with zero iterations and no stakeholder meetings.

Lastly, a few things I realised while I was soaking the last cookie in warm milk:

  • Sometimes, the best solution is the simplest solution.
  • This is another example of how important listening to the end users is, as they can provide guidance and insights towards that best solution for the problem they experience.
  • Designing for the limiting user has the potential to benefit the entire target group in the process.
  • Was that the last cookie out of a full bowl? How many did I eat?
  • I need to find my grandma a UX job in London.

Dimitris Kontaris

Written by

User Experience Design is my work and passion, photography and music composition my hobbies.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade