It’s been over a decade since Steve Krug’s seminal work, Don’t Make Me Think, was published (most recently in the 3rd edition last year), and it remains just as pertinent today. The principles he outlines about experience design can be applied to the analog world too, not just on the web. Take for example something simple like buying coffee.

Here in Boulder we’re lucky to have several talented coffee roasters, one of which is Ozo Coffee–a personal favorite. Ozo recently rolled out a new branding campaign inspired by the ancient hieroglyphics. Here’s how that plays out on the label of a sample pound of coffee:


Other bags have different colors and different glyphs. Here’s the key to the language: a sign located above the cream & sugar bar (and also unreadably small on their web site):


Clever? Sure. Artistic? Absolutely.

So what’s the problem?

It’s unusable since it’s in another language. Since these graphics were created expressly for Ozo, the common understanding is limited to the pool of Ozo Coffee customers. These customers, I’ve observed, tend to hang out to work on their laptops or have meetings, not necessarily to learn a new language. A more common example is web designers sometimes get carried away with icons, most of which don’t convey the intended information because there’s no common understanding.

So now when you’re looking for a pound of coffee, because it takes too long and too much effort to decipher Ozo’s new language, you simply read the bottom part of the label, thankfully printed in plain English. But think too about how much Ozo Coffee spent of their marketing budget for this information schema–a schema that’s wholly unusable. What a waste of money! Clever and eye-catching, perhaps, but no one is going to take the time to learn all, or even a portion of those symbols in order to decide which coffee they want to take home with them, even a dedicated customer like me.

Another problem too is they mounted the sign in a high-traffic area. If you were to take the time to compare the glyphs of the bag of coffee in your hand with those on the sign, you’re now blocking the flow of people wanting to make additions to their coffee. Moreover, it’s across the room on the opposite wall from the retail shelves–where all the bagged coffee is displayed and requires taking the bag(s) of coffee over to read it. If your packaging or web site requires additional information, make sure it’s quickly and easily accessible.

The bottom line is when you’re designing user experiences, use a common language, and most of all minimize the mental load required to engage with your products or services. Unsure? Test. In the end, your customers will thank you for it and continue to be your customers.

Require too much effort from them, and they’ll leave, taking their money with them.

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  1. Simone Borsci

    Reblogged this on Simone Borsci.

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