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Gas Pump
Displaying your UI on the Right Device
It’s often the little things

Often times the biggest detriments to usability are the little things that are within our own control. A simple example of this making sure that when a user interface is designed for a specific device that it gets deployed on the correct device. A example of this can be found at a BP gas station just outside Cleveland.

On my previous commute to work there were a limited number of convenient gas stations where I could fill up if I needed, one of which was this one. When pulling up to pump for the first time you really don’t notice anything out of the ordinary. It’s not until you begin to pay at the pump that the usability issue presents itself.

Once you place your card into and remove it from the pump, the display asks you a pretty standard question: “Would you like a receipt?” You are then presented with 4 options: Yes, No, Help. And Cancel. First, there is a potential design flaw that could be argued if you look at the layout of the options. If users scan from left to right, then top down they would be seen in the following order: Yes, Help, No, Cancel. Short of understanding which option is selected more, “Yes” or “No” it’s hard to argue that the user should be seeing a “Help” option before they see a “No” option (I typically select no myself). If you follow the F-shape pattern theory the order is a little better (Yes, No, Help, Cancel) but I still can’t imagine “Help” being more important that Canceling, or that the reason a user is canceling is that they can’t figure the pump out and a help option would prevent a lost sale.

Or maybe that is the case, because the real usability issue here is what happens once you decide on the action you want to take. If you look close enough to the display each of the options as a small arrow next to it pointing off to the side of the screen…each pointing to a button that doesn’t exist!

This is where usability starts to break down. It’s perfectly acceptable to provide visual clues to the user to help them through a work flow. However, in this case since there are no buttons the users mental process stops and they now have to being to search around on the pump for another button that should allow for similar functionality. This could involved the user who has now become accustomed to a world of touch screens to touch the arrow next to the option they desire, which wouldn’t work here since the right answer is for the user make their way down to the keypad below the screen and select one of the options there.

Now, what is the real impact of such an experience? Hard to say. Despite high gas prices and a oil spill that damaged the brand on an international level this gas station is still selling gas to regular customers, and by all visual evidence available is doing good business. Observational studies could be done to see if customers actually leave the gas station for another, but most probably learn the quirk of the pump after the first visit and know how operate it on subsequent visits.

The reality is though that if the display of the pump only asked the question “Would you like a receipt?” and showed nothing more, usability of the pump would increase because it would no longer be setting a false expectation of the systems functionality to the user. If it takes the user 2, 5 or even 10 extra seconds to make this decision or forces a customer to go inside and wait in line pay in cash before pumping how many more cars are sitting outside waiting to pump behind them? How many more customers could be moved through the system over the course of a day, week, month or year? How much in lost sales would that lead to? This was a simple example to show that the little things matter. Small usability issues can add up quick and not only affect your users bottom line, but also your own.

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I am a certified usability analyst, user experience & graphic designer, and information architect with web & .net development experience based in Cleveland, Ohio.

Copyright 1996 - 2014

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