What happens when technology becomes a hindrance rather than a help? 2

What happens when technology becomes a hindrance rather than a help?

We are a generation that is obsessed with technology. Everywhere you look, there’s a new gadget or piece of tech that promises to make your life easier. And for the most part, these devices do just that. 

We can now do things that were once impossible, or at least very difficult, with the click of a button or a tap on a touch screen. But, when it comes to technological advances, is there such a thing as too much of a good thing? Can technology make things more complicated instead of easier? Let’s look at how this can happen and what UX designers can do to prevent it.

Too much of a good thing?

Once upon a time, cars were just for driving, and a radio would have been considered a high-tech luxury. But now, our vehicles are packed with all kinds of technology, from GPS navigation systems to hands-free calling and entertainment options. While this added tech can make our lives easier in many ways, it can also be a significant distraction when focusing on the task at hand: driving.

One recent study by Swedish car magazine Vi Bilägare found that when performing tasks such as turning on the radio or activating seat heating, drivers performed these actions quicker and more effectively on models of cars using buttons rather than touch screens. This is particularly interesting from a UX design perspective. With touch screens being the more technologically advanced option, it might be easy to assume this would be the better option. However, it is evident in this case that the more straightforward option is sometimes more user-friendly.

It’s not just in our cars where we’re seeing technology cause more problems than it solves.

We live in a world where we are bombarded with information, and it can be overwhelming. We are increasingly placed in situations where we are navigating different systems. Remembering how to use these effectively takes time and patience, which is ok when this technology makes life easier. However, we are now seeing an increase in the use of technology when more traditional solutions may be better. For example, some restaurants now use QR codes for menus, which may please some customers but confuse others equally. Is this a practical solution which has been made based on user needs, or is this a decision that was made based on which option is the more technologically advanced?

Sometimes, in these situations, less can be more, and it may be hard to discern what people actually want, from what you think they want, which is why we have the following four key prompts to help you ensure that your technology remains a help, rather than a hindrance.

Solve the problems that actually need to be solved

One way to prevent technology from becoming a hindrance is to design solutions that solve the problems that actually need to be solved. In other words, don’t add tech for the sake of adding tech. When designing a new feature or piece of functionality, ask yourself if it will improve the user experience or if it’s just nice to have. 

This mistake was one made by a start up called Juicero, a juice press machine that connected to wifi and used QR codes which allowed the accompanying juice packets to be used with the machine. As a juicer, it was already pretty tech heavy with the machine needing wifi connection to scan the codes. This meant that unless the packets were bought from Juicero, there was no other way to use this machine to press your own fruits or vegetables. This wasn’t a design that was user friendly, and the use of technology here was for the benefit of the supplier rather than the user. The company ultimately couldn’t remain in operation as the product was too expensive and unreliable. Not only this, but it was later discovered that the machine wasn’t needed at all after Bloomberg ran an article pointing out that you could juice the packets by hand. This is a prime example where solving the problem that needed to be solved would have helped rather than adding unnecessary technology to the detriment of your users.

Consider – what work does this technology take away

In an article for Forbes, Dan DeMers, co-founder and CEO of Cinchy, advises us to consider what work technology can take away rather than what new work it can do. This is a reminder to ensure that the technology we design is making life simpler rather than creating new complications.

Technology should make our lives easier, not harder. As UX designers, it’s our job to design solutions that improve the user experience, not complicate it.

Rely on user feedback to ensure that user needs are prioritised.

One of the most important things to do when designing user-friendly solutions is to ensure that user needs are being prioritised. And one of the best ways to do this is to rely on user feedback. By constantly checking in with users and getting their input, you can make sure that your designs are actually meeting their needs. This will help avoid the creation of technology-driven complications that end up leading to user dissatisfaction.

Relying on user feedback could have saved Marks and Spencer from a lot of heart ache when it came to the launch of their new website in 2014. After launching, users began to voice dissatisfaction as they had to recreate accounts, struggle to reset passwords and found the user experience to be lacking due to poor navigation and not enough product information. While the site looked good, when it came to user experience and ease of use the site ultimately fell short. This is why it is so important to design with your user in mind, and when in doubt ask for feedback and apply the necessary changes. 

Make sure your solution is user-friendly

Another way to keep technology from becoming a hindrance is to ensure your solution is user-friendly. Even if you’re solving a problem that needs to be solved, if your solution is difficult to use or understand, it will not be successful. When designing, always put yourself in the user’s shoes and think about how they will interact with your design. If it’s not clear or easy to use, chances are, they won’t use it.

Conclusion

Technology is a great thing. It can make our lives easier and help us accomplish tasks that would be difficult or impossible to do without it. But, it’s important to remember that technology is only helpful when it’s user-friendly. When it becomes a hindrance, it needs to be fixed. As UX designers, it’s our job to make sure that the technology we design is simplifying users’ lives, not complicating them.

Andrew Machin
Andrew Machin

With over 25 years’ experience in UX and digital strategy, Andrew has helped many national and global brands such as John Lewis, Harley Davidson, Johnson & Johnson, and Interflora create exceptional digital product experiences.

Through the success of such projects Andrew has received high-profile accolades that span innovation, strategy, and design, such as the Dadi Grand Prix Award and the Digital Impact Award for Innovation.

This experience has led to Andrew judging digital design awards, been featured in .net magazine, lecturing at Leeds university, and speaking at seminars and conferences across the UK.

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