Sunday, March 25, 2012

How Do You Screw Up a Two-Button Machine?

I had the occasion to visit the Department of Motor Vehicles last week to update my drivers license with a new photo and a change of address. I entered the lobby area where there was a short line leading to a "Take a Ticket" machine. How hard could this be?

Curiously, it was taking some time for the customers to "take their tickets," leading me to ponder the average level of intellect found in the general populous of roadway cohabitors.

Turns out that the DMV has three service counters depending on why you’re there and a different turn-counter, thus a need for three different "Take a Ticket" selections. You don’t just take a ticket, first you have to determine which service you want and then take the appropriate ticket to get into the appropriate abuse line.

But wait, the DMV has automated the "Take the Right Ticket" process with a handy-dandy three button ticket dispenser. What could possibly go wrong?

One button was labeled "Driver’s Examinations," and I knew that wasn’t the button for me.

The two remaining buttons read, "License processing" and "Photo processing." Pick one. But, but, but .. I need (I think) a little of both. Suddenly my earlier thoughts of despair over the intellectual inadequacies of indigenous drivers were replaced with utter contempt for the person or persons who designed (essentially) a binary selection so ambiguous as to cause brain spasms.

I actually touched my temple with the heel of my hand and moaned, "Whoever you are, you are evil." HOW DO YOU SCREW UP A TWO-BUTTON MACHINE?

I tried to get inside the mind of the designer, to think as they would think, to select the button that would get me to the correct line of perpetuity. As I recursively looped through the permutations I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. "Dude, it’s just a ticket machine - take a ticket and move on." I now hate two people at the DMV.

I pushed the most logical button, grabbed my ticket and proceeded to the wait line. I eventually discovered, that I needed to be in the other line.

The point is that the creator of that three-button ticket machine knew the right ways to interpret the questions to yield the correct selection, but failed to consider the view of a person who is not an expert in the inner workings of the DMV. This falls into the "customers-have-to-know-how-we-work-to-use-our-services" model. This is a failed strategy.

It’s not easy, but we must strive to continually think as our customers think, rather than how we wish they think. That our customers may be fellow employees does not reduce our responsibilities.


  1. Great back end process - poor UI Eric?

  2. It's almost a bad as answering messages on the telepone. I alwasy end up pressing the O button becasue none of the choices interest me. And worst of all is 'try our web site'. Jerk, if I could get to a web site I wouldnt be calling. Why are to humans that set these things up so limited in why any one would call

  3. It is so nice to see our tax dollars at work. I know now how well big things will be handled.


Follow by Email