Tag Archives: Design

User expectations

I had work in Chicago yesterday and today (I’m taking the Amtrak home at the moment). I stayed at the Swissotel. It’s a nice hotel – great bedding, good bathroom, and one of the best views I’ve ever enjoyed in a hotel room.


Whoever designed the hotel apparently wanted it to be kinda hip, so they did a couple of things a bit differently …

First, the elevators don’t have any buttons in them. Seriously. Before you get on the elevator, you type your floor into a keypad, and then it tells you which elevator to get on (A through F). That elevator is going to your floor.

Second, the light switch in the bathroom doesn’t just go up and down. No sir, this one goes up (full on), middle (off), and down (half on). Clever.

I’m sure both inventors were confident they’d found a better way of solving a problem. Perhaps the elevator mechanism is more efficient in some scenarios. I’m pretty sure that dividing 30 people evenly across 6 floors is WAY more efficient with this mechanism than with the standard one. Many people would arrive at their destination faster and the total mission would be accomplished sooner.

And the light switch is neat – two on settings in one switch! Surely that’s better than 2 separate switches. But I only discovered it because I’m apparently a heavy off-flicker of lights.

Here’s the thing … the old way was FINE. I don’t want to re-learn how to use an elevator, especially not for a short stay at a hotel. I could MAYBE see it in an office building, but even then – there are two many visitors. It’s just not worth it. The only upside is getting to watch a random usability test every time someone new checks in.

As for the light – it was actually kind of irritating the second and third time I tried to turn off the light and only made it halfway off. Not the feeling of delight I assume the designer was going for.

As a user, I have pretty ingrained expectations of the way these things work. The inventors might think their ways were better, but I am confident that a survey would show few other people prefer these specific inventions over the “norm.” If you’re going to change something where users have ingrained expectations, you better make it a slam dunk. It better be a LOT better. Some examples:

  • Josh Linkner just talked about a new thermostat that users seem to like a lot better
  • Digital photography is a LOT better than film for most applications. Even though it had a couple of negatives at the beginning (slow response, lower quality images), the pluses were so much better that film is essentially dead
  • I’m biased, but I think the live tiles on my Windows Phone are WAY better than a grid of apps (join me people!)
  • Remember when the little red squiggly line replaced the old spell checker in Word 2.0? SLAM DUNK BETTER

The point is, when users have an expectation, you can’t just change it to a way that YOU think is better. You have to change it to a way that MOST users think is better – preferably a LOT better. Otherwise, you might as well just meet users’ expectations.

While we’re on the subject of hotels, here is what I DO want: I want an easily accessible plug right by my bed. I use my phone’s alarm clock, and I recharge my phone over night. I need a plug near my bed to meet both of those needs at once. And please – give me a clock in my room with a dimmable light or no light at all. I don’t like big LED’s shining into my eyes. Often, I have to pull out the nightstand and unplug the clock to dim the light and have access to a plug. Dusty. Low rent.

But you know what – the Swissotel had both of these things! Perfectly dimmable clock and a classy plug on the lamp. Combined with great bedding and a great view, it made me quite fond of this hotel.

One more thing I want in a hotel – a bathroom nightlight that’s on by default but that doesn’t shine so bright it’s annoying from bed. Would eliminate a lot of bruises and cursing.

What do you think – am I wrong (about user expectations or hotels)?