What are the Consequences When Technology Fails?
Technology can streamline processes, improve agility and add value to your business. But to make it a success, you’ll need to have the right team on board.
We’ve all felt the pain of technology failures. From website glitches to whole servers going down, many technical problems are unavoidable – but they can really impact your day. And we’re all relying on technology more and more. Head to any school and you’ll find iPads, tablets and laptops in every classroom.
Could you do your day-to-day job without a computer and internet connection? Even health workers like doctors and nurses rely on computer systems to document care and communicate with colleagues.
Fixing technology issues takes time, but that’s not all. Technology failures affect every part of the business, from brand reputation to profit margins. What’s more, technology failures can be incredibly expensive to fix.
As a UX designer, your priority is creating systems with great usability. The enjoyment of your target users is paramount, so you must ensure every page or piece of content is designed to convey the brand and satisfy the needs of users. If your UX design doesn’t meet these goals, you’ll soon start identifying problems.
Using UX Techniques to Reduce the Risks of Technology Failure
New products and services must always be considered in conjunction with overarching themes and designs. The techniques below could help to reduce the risk of costly technology failures.
An effective outline meeting is the first step to successful UX design. At the start of the process, hold a meeting with all key stakeholders – that means everyone involved in the design and development of your product. Agree on responsibilities and how you’ll communicate, then decide on metrics and how to measure success.
A now-defunct NHS patient management system ended up costing the UK taxpayer billions of pounds. Poor design played a significant role in the failure of NPfIT. Developers spent little time consulting with key stakeholders and failed to test systems. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) described it as one of the “worst and most expensive contracting fiascos” in the history of the public sector.
Whether you choose to create this digitally or using sticky notes, a roadmap outlines your product strategy and shows the steps that need to be taken.
The Post Office Horizon system was another public sector technology disaster. The system was first used in 1999 for tasks like accounting, transactions and stocktaking. After its implementation, many staff raised concerns about system bugs. They noticed significant shortfalls, often running into thousands of pounds. Some staff tried to close the gap using their own funds, even re-mortgaging their homes to do so, but they were unable to resolve the errors. Further to the system errors, hundreds of workers were wrongly accused and convicted for stealing.
Some went on to serve custodial sentences, others found themselves bankrupt or excluded by the communities they lived in. The scandal left the Post Office and government with a hefty bill for compensation, seeing them ordered to pay out millions of pounds in damages. In 2021, many of the convictions were overturned. The scandal was the most severe miscarriage of justice in UK history. The developer, Fujitsu, is likely to face malicious prosecution claims.
Existing users are the best people to tell you what they want from your product. Interviews with prospective users can be helpful too, especially if you’re targeting a new or unknown user demographic.
Focus groups are a useful way to gather user feedback. They usually involve a maximum of 10 participants, plus a moderator. The moderator invites participants to talk through any issues and concerns they have with the existing UI.
This tool highlights the positive and negative design features of an existing product. UX designers use it to evaluate product accessibility, usability and overall effectiveness.
This method involves asking users to group content and product functionality features into open or closed categories. The results provide input on user preferences in terms of flow, hierarchy and organisation.
Eye Movement Tracking
This is used to analyse a user’s eye movements across a web page. It offers insight as to what holds a user’s attention and what design features might help to improve flow.
This involves breaking down all of the steps required to complete a task. UX designers and developers use it to understand an existing system and how information flows between processes. Mapping out all of the steps and tasks in this way is useful when allocating tasks in a new or updated system.
Entrepreneur Elon Musk promised to make traffic and congestion a thing of the past with the Boring Tunnel. The Boring Tunnel Las Vegas Loop sits 40-feet underground and cost more than $50million to build. Under normal circumstances, drivers using the 1.7-mile tunnel can travel at a maximum speed of 40mph.
But visitors to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at the Las Vegas Convention Centre in January 2022 found themselves stuck in a traffic jam. It is thought to have been caused because the South Hall doors at the Convention Centre were closed. However, the CES wasn’t especially busy due to the pandemic and drivers were only able to move at a maximum speed of 4mph.
UX designers observe users navigating the system to achieve a task. This helps to identify pitfalls in the design and make plans to resolve these.
Making sure the system works is vital. In 2014, Elizabeth Holmes became the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire thanks to the creation of the Edison test. The test promised to detect health issues like diabetes and cancer, without the use of needles.
But by 2015, people began to notice that things weren’t quite as they seemed. The chief scientist, Ian Gibbons, told Holmes that the tests weren’t yet ready for public use. Other scientists outside of the company raised similar concerns, and shortly after that, Holmes was exposed as a fake – the technology didn’t work, and her company, Theranos, folded in 2018, wiping out all of the $945 million investments she had raised.
The American entrepreneur was charged with massive fraud by the SEC and later convicted on four counts of fraud. If her appeal is rejected, she will face a lengthy jail term. She must also pay a $500,000 fine, return 18.9 million shares of Theranos stock and cannot be director or officer of a publicly traded company for 10 years. So determined was Holmes to succeed, she chose to cover up the inaccuracies and shortcomings of the technology, rather than taking steps to resolve the issues.
Another example is Windows 8. When it was launched in 2012, loyal Windows users immediately noticed that the Start menu was missing from the home screen. The Start button had been a staple Windows feature since Windows 95, so it meant the user experience felt completely different. Instead, users had to navigate the system through two separate UI layers, meaning the system felt unfamiliar and complicated.
This is why UX testing is so vital. There’s no point in investing huge sums of money in a project that could easily fall flat. Running a pilot is always a good plan. If it goes well, grow the project. If it doesn’t, evaluate what worked and what didn’t, then adjust your direction of travel.
Taking responsibility for technology failures
In her article “When Technology Fails, Who’s Responsible”, Amber Case shares her experience of reviewing a newly-designed luxury car. At first, she was impressed by the car’s elegant appearance, but then she noticed the in-car entertainment system. With its resemblance to an iPad, she noted how all of the controls were touch-based. This meant drivers couldn’t use it without taking their eyes off the road, making it dangerous and poorly designed. The display screen was bright blue, which is well-known for causing temporary vision problems when driving at night.
Amber shared her opinion with the man accompanying her on the test drive, later discovering that he was the company CEO. His reaction? He accepted responsibility for the decision to add the touchscreen, even though there were major UX drawbacks. He explained that the reasoning behind this was to give an image of being forward-thinking like Tesla. In subsequent editions of the vehicle, analogue dashboard controls were used, but millions had already been spent on a version that was nowhere near as safe to drive as it should have been.
Want to reduce the risk of technology failures? You should never underestimate the importance of putting in the groundwork.
For UX designers, this means doing plenty of high-quality research. Your research will help you to build up a full understanding of your audience, including their needs and preferences.
If things don’t go to plan, try to avoid defensive reactions. Instead, take ownership of the problem and listen to the feedback being offered. You can then consider how you might improve things and work collaboratively with the user to make changes.