What do visits to two local restaurants have to do with being a web developer? More than what you might think.

The connection is what developers call User Experience (UX). While many people are familiar with “user interface,” UX includes that and goes beyond it. There are many definitions of UX. The one I like best is from Pabini Gabriel-Petit, and includes: “…all aspects of digital products and services that users experience directly… Key factors contributing to the quality of users’ experience of products are learnability, usability, usefulness, and aesthetic appeal.”

Everything you do in an app or website is part of your experience of it, including whether you happily move through it, or are frustrated by not being able to find the right button or menu to get where you want to go. Those feelings can help determine how likely you are to keep using the app, so most developers focus a lot of time trying to understand the process that will make your experience the most enjoyable.

UX is everywhere

While UX is usually talked about for digital products, the same principles apply to the analog world. If you know a store usually has long lines and employees who aren’t courteous, you will probably not go there as often, even if you like the products they sell. Your feelings about the store affect your desire to go there.

I had experiences in two new local restaurants recently that left me thinking about poor UX, and the relatively small step both could have taken to avoid my frustration. They both are part of successful chains, which made the result more surprising. The first one, which focuses on “healthy” foods, has the ordering line start at the far end of the restaurant, behind a short wall that’s set up to display products and the tray busing area. The problem is, there’s no sign telling you that, so all you see is a counter where they prepare your order, and a sign that says “Pay here,” but nothing that tells you that you have to walk behind the wall that looks like it’s the end of the room. I finally asked someone at the counter who pointed and said “over there.”

The other one is a pizza place, which coincidentally is next to the “healthy” restaurant, so I guess which one you visit depends on how healthy you feel that day. I had ordered and paid online, so only had to pick up my pizza. I walked in and looked for the place to pick up online orders. I finally found a fairly small sign at the far end of the counter that said to look for an icon of a flame to find the pickup area. I looked around for a couple of minutes without seeing anything resembling a flame, and finally asked the person making pizzas where I could pick up my online order. She said “it’s on the shelf behind you,” and  pointed to a series of shelves with cardboard boxes on them, and NO flame icon or even anything that said online order pickup area.

A simple solution

I walked out of both places thinking of how simple it would have been to set up the restaurant from the point of view of someone who’d never been there, and needed to find the basic things like how to place an order or how to pick up an online order. I’m guessing they have people who do think of those things, but they didn’t think it through hard enough, or maybe the restaurants just forgot to put up the signs. The feeling I had from both places was frustration, and that’s a big part of my user experience.