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To push or to pull, that is the question.

If you are anything like me, whether to push or pull doesn’t always come naturally. Signs which strictly or even helpfully inform us to push, often result instead in a pull, with their counterparts receiving exactly the reverse treatment.

DoorWith such a plethora of visual cues available to us, why is it that so many people have issues when simply existing or entering a building?

Clearly I have too much time on my hands because after a life time of imbibing lattes in a variety of cafes, I think I may have happened on an answer.

Door handles.

Yep, that’s right, door handles. When they exist we are oh so tempted to pull. When they don’t exist, pushing really seems to be our only means of escape. Put a pull sign on a handle-less door and where would we be? Stumped. Shocked … terrified even? Similarly, put a handle where there is a push sign and before we know it we are doing a version of the hokey cokey that would definitely not impress the judges on Strictly.

When finally we emerge on the right (or even wrong) side of the door, we are left red, sweaty and more indeed of a coffee than ever before. Worst still the hangover we have from the heady mix of emotions we have just experienced will more than likely spill over into the rest of our day. Feeling acutely self-conscious, we then inaudibly mutter our order, fumble for the right change and slosh our coffee everywhere whilst adding sugar, because even though we know we shouldn’t, we now need a hit to sooth our soul.

If, of course, whilst sipping, we see someone else undergoing to same trauma, a number of options present themselves. We could stand up and help, whilst loudly informing anyone who will listen that ‘yes, it is awkward isn’t it, I had a bit of bother myself, it’s very stiff’, thereby appearing chivalrous and offering an explanation for our buffoonery all at once.

Another crueller option is to share a knowing look with the other patrons, whilst trying to supress a laugh at the uninitiated, the very essence of the in-joke. Yet, if the emotion is still too raw, we may need to avoid eye contact of any kind altogether, or risk having to re-process the ordeal we have just gone through. At any rate, the attention is no longer on us which has to be a relief.

The point I am trying to make here is that unlike the brain games that seek to deliberately confuse us by printing PINK in black letters before asking us what colour we are looking at, motor and visual cues need to be one and the same.

Never is this more important than in user interface design. If the logical path is at odds with the visual or obvious one, then users will be confused, intimidated or frustrated, none of which are useful emotions for actually getting stuff done.

User centred design and user interface design are necessary bedfellows to avoid this issue. The resulting pillow talk between the two means that logic and clear instruction will work together seamlessly and in harmony, to produce a satisfying experience for users that closely reflects their needs as well as saves their blushes.

They will be grateful, wowed by how thoughtful you have been to put that thing that they need, right where they need it, but most of all because you have given them the undeniably valuable gift of making them look good.

Nicola Wilson is a keen blogger from the UK, currently working for Alight, Specialists in user interface design and user experience. 

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Tuesday, 20 October 2020
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