Our family went to Cedar Point. I’m getting really thirsty. Hot day in August and, of course, soft drinks at the amusement park have an approximate 1000% markup*. I want a bottle that I can re-close and store, so I can take it on rides, so I’m not interested in the usual containers provided by the food vendors. I approach one of the many vending machines at the park.
Much to my delight, the machine takes credit cards. Since my husband is currently off on one of the major coasters designed by crazy people that I won’t get on, and he has all the cash, I figured I’d scrounge in my purse for sufficient change to make myself and the park happy. Now, I have the convenience of a vending machine that will take my Visa card. Or, so I thought.
I see the glowing slot, just like so many ATMs. I stick my card in, and note that the card does not come out. I figure I have to push the button for my drink of choice. Nothing. I look more closely at the machine. I discover, much to my alarm, that there is a VERTICAL slot right next to the one I put my card in, where you’re supposed to SWIPE the card. The machine has effectively eaten my credit card.
I gather my son from his ride and we trudge back to the front of the park where the park operations office is, so I can see if my card can be retrieved. I told the polite gentleman at the service desk that I was an idiot, and began with “I was trying to use my credit card in the Coke machine, and put it in the–” He finished my sentence for me: “You put it in the wrong slot, right?”
I think, at this point, it’s safe to assume I was not the first idiot to have done this**. My mistake, obviously, was to assume that the Coke machine, even though it looked much like many ATMs , operated the same way. I made an assumption about how the credit card slot operated, based on my previous experiences with something similar.
Like so many things in life, I did what most of us do–I attempted to apply previous experiences to a current one. That doesn’t excuse my assumption (maybe I can claim heat exhaustion or something?), but it does say a lot about poor user interface design. If I wasn’t the first person to have this problem at the park, then I’m also not the only one making assumptions based on prior experience with machines that take cards. The two slots are not clearly indicated, they’re too close together, and the interface needs to be re-thought. I’m forced to wonder how many cards per week are lost in those machines.
So, what has this tale got to do with websites?
More people are familiar with the interface on an ATM than the credit card processor on a vending machine. ATMs have been around a lot longer. Not only that, many of us have also learned to put credit cards in horizontally from machines at the airport, parking garages and ticket vendors.
When people come to your website, they bring the entire rest of the Web with them. Their experiences on Amazon, Facebook, eBay, etc.–each of those factors into their expectations and experiences. For example: if someone clicks “About Us” on your website, they expect to get information that is considered standard in most places–hours of operation, location, staff directory, history, mission, services, policies and so forth. These kinds of things have become conventions across the Web–so why should your site be any different? Why frustrate people who come with expectations based on how everything else works?
People don’t get weird library jargon, or non-informational names like “Hot Zone.” Just the basics, please. Don’t make us think. Give it to us straight, and don’t make us figure out which search field (or vending machine slot!) to use. No matter how “cool” you think your stuff is, don’t flout convention.
Don’t be special. Be USEFUL.
*Granted, math is not my strong suit. But nearly 4 bucks for a Coke is ludicrous.
**Cedar Point seems to even have a procedure for this. Unfortunately, the Coke rep was gone for the day and it was too late for me. I had to cancel the card.