Copyright 2018 — Leon Cato Photography

Starbucks, a Bagel and a Bad User Experience

“Sometimes they change the price in the computer, so it actually costs a bit more” I was told. Of course this didn’t make sense to me but then the Starbucks staff member curtly presented me with two options while dangling the toasted and packaged undersized bagel just out of my reach. “So you don’t want it anymore? Or are you going to pay?” What I heard is, “we’ve misled you on the price but its ready now, so you can take it or leave it.”

As I am currently immersed in studying UX Design, I immediately thought of the book Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. In this example I am the user and Starbucks is the website or mobile app that Krug describes in his design bible. I was in the midst of a total collapse of the overall user experience. Not only was the product incorrectly labelled in the display, but at checkout the customer was told that the options were either to purchase it at a higher price or abandon the purchase entirely. In Don’t Make Me Think, Krug warns against making the customer overthink the experience and be forced to deal with incorrect information and organizational inefficiencies. For example Krug states that when creating a submission form, users should not be forced to comply with a preferred format simply because the organization was too lazy to write a bit of code to accommodate various number formats. In my case this little bit of code was the Starbucks staff taking two minutes to change the price label on the bagel display.

In the online version of this experience I would have simply closed my browser or left the site, never to return. I certainly would not have taken the time to contact customer service (as I did the manager in Starbucks) to sort out the issue. In some instances, like when interacting with the DMV or IRS websites users have no choice but to stick it out as, well, where else are you going to get your driver’s license renewed or download the newest W2 form? But with most other websites and mobile app user experiences the margin for error is extremely slim since the entire user interaction happens a lot faster than it does in person. There is a reason why shopping cart abandonment is analyzed so closely in web analytics. What makes a user change their mind at that point? Most certainly a higher-than-expected price and difficulty resolving issues both factor in a big way.

Sadly, bad user experience design is everywhere. As a nascent UXer, my observations of this fact grow each day. In an episode of the NPR podcast TED Radio Hour titled, The Power of Design Tony Fadell talked about how the pricing labels on fruit are really annoying and an example of poor design. Of course the coded stickers are really annoying but I, like most people, accept this as a reality of buying and eating fruit (I cut mine off with a knife btw). Fadell’s point in describing this everyday inconvenience was that everyone should “stay beginners”, train themselves to appreciate and understand design and, most of all, not accept poor design. Each individual can advocate for better design in our everyday products. I certainly think this influenced me to push for accurate pricing labelling during Battle of the Bagel.


During my current process of becoming a UX Designer, I am constantly putting my experiences as a user and consumer into a UX framework and observing how, where and why, service-based organizations deliver bad experiences. In thinking through my Starbucks bagel drama, I was able to put this customer service failing into a more specific context — the importance of testing. Testing as an overall concept should be implemented throughout an organization and certainly when it pertains to specific user interactions.

Copyright 2018 — Leon Cato Photography

When I started my photography business in 2009 one of the first things I did was draft a checklist of tasks to complete before each shoot. The list was not just about making sure my memory cards were ready and batteries charged, it also contained items like making sure I had enough copies of model releases, a full map of the location and anything else that would ensure the shoot runs smoothly from an operational perspective. To this day I make it a point to regularly perform tests on my equipment by subjecting my wife to what has amounted to countless modeling tests over the years. Even though it has almost been a decade, testing is the one element of my business that never changes.

In Starbucks, with any change in pricing at the POS system or inventory there should be standard tests conducted before opening to ensure consistency. Instead, the manager had to leave his desk, hold up the line and incovenience a customer. Not to mention the staff member had a negative employment experience as a process-breakdown put him in an awkward position.

While User Testing in website or mobile app development differs in its nature than the above examples, the concept of testing is the same. Make sure the user experience is as seamless as possible by identifying potential barriers to achieving a goal or enjoying an experience.

Krug encourages design teams to embrace user testing early on in the development process in order to ensure they are heading in the right direction, obstacles are being dealt with and the user is able to quickly find the intended value in the product. He emphasizes that the designer’s view is never the same as the user’s and one morning of testing a month can save untold grief down the line.

Before starting my UX journey, I used to think that I was not a sophisticated and well informed web user and that I should do a better job at understanding how to navigate a site as soon as I enter the address in my browser. I truly thought I wasn’t keeping up with changing aesthetics and web technology.

Now as a student of UX Design I am beginning to understand that difficult user experiences are almost always due to bad or inefficient design. Sure there is the aspect of human error to be taken into account, but rigid attention to detail in regard to user interaction points is absolutely critical. At all times it is the only aspect of the entire process that actually matters.

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