Hilarious UX fail at the California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences is a wonderful place to visit with kids or adults of all ages. It’s to be admired for promoting awareness of science, research, and causes of sustainability and ecological balance.

But it’s also the site of one of the most hilarious UX failures I’ve ever seen.

There’s an exhibit, at one end of the main floor, that invites you to learn about insect species through an interactive floor interface. The idea is to nudge a piece of food along with your foot, luring a bug into a trap, which brings up information about the critter on a wall display.

However, what happens when kids see bugs on the floor? A scene straight out of Starship Troopers. Manic, hysterical, and exuberant stomping of every bug in sight. “Get the bugs!” “I hate bugs!” You get the idea. The kids love it, but this is surely not what the exhibit designers had intended.

Every now and then, an older child will actually read the instructions and attempt to follow them. Unfortunately, their careful steps are usually trampled by a toddler first.

It’s worth noting that the technology works beautifully. Every thunderous footfall is precisely captured and processed.

The obvious UX lesson here is to make sure you understand the mental model of your audience (customers). And vet some prototypes. It’s hard to believe this had been tested with any kids—their reaction would have been unmistakable.

Otherwise, you’ll get stomped.