The One Thing All Customers Want

What do toilet flushing mechanisms have to do with software? And who should care about this? 1) Everything, and 2) YOU should care and here’s why: Whether it’s an app, a floor plan (IKEA!), a checkout desk, a door, a software workflow process, or a toilet flush plate, understanding human behavior is the lifeblood of good design. And if you’re not the one actually designing experiences, chances are good that you’re involved in purchasing experiences — physical or digital — for your customers and employees. And here’s an observation that I bet you’ve noticed, too: there is a LOT of bad design out there.

How many times have you reached for the pull handle on a door, only to realize it’s a push door? “GAH! WHO PUT THAT HANDLE THERE AND WHY?” And what about these new-fangled toilet flush buttons that always seem to be present in bathrooms with dim lighting? Are we supposed to press both halves of the circle together? Which button generates the small flush? What are the consequences if I somehow mess this up?

The presence of a handle, or a button, or any element of design intended to guide the user as to how they are meant to interact with a place or system in order to complete an action is called an “affordance.” I learned the concept of “affordance” from one of Universal Mind’s awesome User Experience architects and have now become a bit obsessed with it because our lives are steeped in affordances. When affordances suck they cause frustration, like the presence of a pull handle on a push door. What are the chances that customer is going to be grumpy upon entering your store? We humans do not like to feel stupid but that’s exactly how we feel when faced with poor affordances.

Those are some real-world physical examples, but in the case of a website, app, or even complex software system, poor design when it comes to perceived affordances has a multitude of negative effects, including:

  1. Increased abandonment rates as users decide they’d rather stick forks in their eyes than waste precious time trying to figure out which button they’re supposed to click or drag.
  2. Higher customer service costs when that digital solution you launched actually requires more human interactions not less.
  3. Unplanned training costs when software isn’t intuitive.

The one thing all customers want is to feel good about themselves. It’s simple human nature: we like to feel proficient as we move through the world. Perceiving ourselves as smart and successful or even simply moving through our day with ease makes us feel GREAT! Push that door without hesitation! Flush that toilet without guessing! Enter your customer’s order into the online system like a boss! Hey, you are smart and fantastic and YOU’VE GOT THIS!

You’ve probably heard this joke: What do you call the person who graduates last in their class at medical school? Doctor. Scary, right? Every career has its practitioners for whom the necessary skills, creativity, and deep understanding of relevant human behavior either don’t come easily or aren’t present at all. So maybe you are not the one personally designing the tools and experiences your customers and employees use, but if you are involved in any way with the purchase of these tools and experiences, whether out-of-the-box or custom, here’s my $10,000 piece of advice: Be aware of affordances and do what you can to make sure that what you purchase is well-designed (like the flush plate in the video below).

And to see some of our work, please visit Universal Mind’s website here: