The Power of UX, Part 1: Designing Disasters

So you need a wireless mouse.

No big deal. You buy one online, and when it arrives, you discover that the power switch is, for some odd reason, located on the bottom of the mouse. Yes, the bottom – the part that’s continually rubbing against the desk. Every time you use the mouse, the power switch accidentally turns off in mid-use.

So you try another, this time a rechargeable one. To your surprise, you find that you can’t use the mouse at all while it’s charging, and it needs to be charged frequently.

You try a third one, and you discover that in order for the mouse to work, the battery must depress a tiny button in the battery compartment. A regular AAA battery fits perfectly in the compartment and depresses the button easily, but the special rechargeable AAA battery that comes with the mouse is just a tiny bit smaller than a standard battery, so it doesn’t depress the button at all unless you wrap it in a bit of paper towel at the point where it touches the button.

And that is the wonder of bad UX.

UX stands for “User eXperience,” or the quality of a person’s experience with a product or service. Faulty product design is the most basic cause of negative UX. And although you may not be a product designer, understanding this concept can help you to harness the power of UX in other areas of your business, which in turn will build your brand equity.

UX and Faulty Product Design

If you’ve ever pushed a pull door, or scalded yourself in a hotel shower, or been unable to find the light switch in a room, then you have encountered terrible UX at its most basic level.

Designers put a lot of effort into creating all of the different functions that a user might want. But if users can’t figure out how to work those functions, or if they have to put in a lot of effort in order to do so, they will walk away frustrated. The same is true if they find a certain aspect of design to be counter-intuitive. These issues can quickly translate into damaged brand loyalty, decreased repeat purchases, and negative word-of-mouth marketing.

Can you figure out what on earth the minus sign is for? How about the period or decimal point? Can this elevator go to negative floors? Half floors? (

For example, consider the Juicero, a cold-press juicing machine invented in 2013 that only worked with special Juicero packets. The problem? The company put an online DRM (digital rights management) on the juicer. That means that buyers needed to set up an online account, connect the juicer to a cloud-based service, and scan the juice pack – all before squeezing a single glass of juice! Just over a year after its launch in 2016, Juicero suspended all sales and has never recovered.

Then there’s the HP Laserjet’s infamous “PC LOAD LETTER” error message. When users encountered this message, they assumed that something was wrong with the connection between the printer and the computer (PC), or that they needed to upload (“load”) something before proceeding. They never guessed the true meaning of the error message: that they needed to load more letter-sized paper into the paper cassette (PC). After all, if that were the case, why didn’t the designers simply make the error message read “OUT OF PAPER”?

From garage door openers that seem impossible to program, to wallets that don’t fit standard-sized credit cards, and from thermostat controls that are not intuitive, to tea kettles with handles that heat up quickly… products with faulty designs are ubiquitous in our lives.

Norman Doors

In fact, bad UX can cause real harm.

In March of 1979, a nuclear disaster on Three Mile Island made front page news as the most significant nuclear disaster in US history. The blame, supposedly, lay with the control-room operators; the cause was listed as “human error.”

But when Donald A. Norman and a group of social and behavioral scientists examined the issue further, they discovered that “human error” was a gross generalization. In fact, a series of small, seemingly insignificant design flaws in the equipment led the control-room operators to jump to some logical – but extremely wrong — conclusions.

This led Norman to more closely examine how faulty design could have significant consequences – from the loss of a customer to the meltdown of a nuclear reactor. In time, these design faults became known as Norman doors, for the ubiquitous doors that leave people pulling instead of pushing – or the opposite.

Improving Your Product UX

Good UX during and after the design process can help ensure that your product will be well-received by your customers. These are some of the many possible techniques that you can use – or hire a specialist to use – to improve your product’s UX:

  • Create customer personas. No matter what type of product you are designing, it is important to visualize who a typical customer for that product might be. Doing so will enable you to decide on various design elements that will best fit your audience’s needs. A strong customer persona like this one allows you to actually see a potential customer.
  • Consider creating a storyboard or a customer journey map. Although storyboards are typically used in the film industry to plan out a movie’s plot, a UX storyboard like the one below can demonstrate the environment in which a customer might use a product and explain why they might make the choices that they do. (Similarly, a customer journey map is a diagram that shows the steps that a user might take to reach a specific goal.)
  • Involve customers in the process early on. Don’t wait until right before the launch to start testing your design on sample users. Instead, work with focus groups early on, or allow users to try out your prototype in the earlier stages. You can record data on how they interact with your product, such as how long it takes them to perform a specific task, or how many unnecessary steps they take in the process. You might consider split testing to discover which design your users prefer. And in some situations, you can use special equipment like eye-tracking cameras to monitor where they typically look while trying out your prototype.


  • Don’t forget about the packaging. Even the strongest product can be hobbled by packaging that exasperates your customers. The frustration caused by tamper-proof caps or twist-tied components can only dampen your customers’ enthusiasm towards your product. And did you know that thousands of people go to the emergency room every year due to packaging mishaps? After all, it seems that some clamshell-type packaging is impossible to open even with the sharpest scissors!


  • Welcome feedback. Even after you launch a product, continue to monitor your customers’ feedback. Which aspects of the product do they most appreciate? Are there any aspects that frustrate them?

Not designing a product? No problem – UX can still have a great impact on your company. Next month, we will let you in on the secret of how to apply the principles of UX to web interfaces, such as websites and apps.

This is part 1 in a series that examines how you can harness the power of UX to improve your bottom line. This post focuses on product design, which is the most basic level of UX. Part 2 will discuss how UX can impact web interfaces, and Part 3 will explain how it can be used to improve customer interactions for all companies. See all the articles in the series here.