Bad UX Hurts, Good UX Goes Unnoticed

I came across this traffic light at a junction I’d never driven through before. I was on the left lane on which traffic proceeded only straight. The lane on the right turned right.

All geared up to move straight, I kept my eyes on the traffic light to the left. Seeing red I brought my car to a halt.

Immediately, cars behind me began honking relentlessly.

Flustered, with all that mental chatter of what had possibly gone wrong, I looked at the traffic light again, only to realize that the light on the right, had a straight arrow mark on it. And it was green! It was meant for the left lane. How bizarre!

What’s amazing is that I’ve seen at least 3 other people experience what I had, driving through this road for the first time. Confused, they’ve paused for a while before taking a decision on what to do next.

I wonder what necessitated this traffic light to be designed against the convention — why were the natural left and right positions interchanged. There was no good reason to diverge from the expected. I get that the straight arrow was an attempt to ‘unconfuse’ and shouldn’t have gone unnoticed, but the fact is, it did. And hey that also sounds like a user being apologetic for an interface not being user-friendly.

This is how bad UX hurts.

  1. How to do something is not obvious or instantly self-evident.
  2. Instead of guiding users, it confuses them.
  3. In situations where you’re programmed to scan, you’re made to stop and think. It adds friction.
  4. Friction causes frustration.

Bad design increases cognitive load, making users unnecessarily process what they needn’t and in worst cases hinders one’s ability to accomplish an intended task.

I also wonder that although bad design hurts, does good design go unnoticed? Maybe. Great design so seamlessly fits into everything else in your life. It simplifies the way you set out to achieve something. It makes the ‘how’ effortless. You barely notice it. But its absence overwhelms you.

What’s your story of a bad user experience?