Employees in safety-conscious work environments don’t wait until someone gets hurt before they fill out a report and figure out what went wrong. They also do so for near misses and close calls. Maybe no one was next to the shelf that fell over, but someone could have been. It wouldn’t make sense to ignore an obvious hazard just because no one was injured.

We can apply a similar practice to improve the user experience of our applications. How? By documenting any momentary confusion or frustration we experience when interacting with our own application. Anyone who sits near me has heard me at some point expressing frustration that it’ s unclear how to use some feature of one of our websites, punctuating my rant with the words, “…and I work here!” If it takes me five seconds to figure it out, how long will it take a user who has never seen it before? If it takes me a minute or I need to ask someone else then clearly there’s room for improvement.

What I propose is creating a UX near miss list. My company uses Yammer so I’ve created a Yammer group, but it could just as easily be SharePoint or some other medium. What matters is

  • It’s easy to post a picture or two with text
  • Anyone on my team can post to it and see others’ posts
  • It’s internal - we don’t want to air dirty laundry.

Then take a moment to document any moment of interaction with your website or application where you don’t understand a message or aren’t sure what to do next. For bonus points, suggest a remedy.

Here’s an example from a checkout page, something old that’s already been fixed:

UX near miss example

The red text and the words “not valid” make this look like an error message. It actually means that they don’t need a coupon for free freight because their freight is already free. That’s good news for the customer, so why does it look like an error? We could say, “Good news, you don’t need a coupon code because your freight is already free!” Or just hide the whole thing if it doesn’t apply.

What Does This Accomplish?

  • It provides a constructive way to communicate potential UX concerns. It’s like a suggestions box. Having the box invites suggestions and makes them seem less like complaints.
  • It draws awareness to the importance of UX. Once people see a few issues like this documented they start noticing them themselves.
  • Anyone can become an expert. If you can spot the problem and suggest an improvement, congratulations! You’re now a UX Developer.