UX: The 10-mile-long bus

I once sat on the bus while the driver yelled at a passenger for six minutes. I timed it.

The guy had snuck on the bus without paying, refusing to leave even after being called on it, and then even after being yelled at for five and a half minutes. But six minutes was too much, so he finally hopped off, presumably to sneak onto the next one.

Briefly, after the MUNI bandit’s departure, I thought everyone was going to break into applause for the driver, like in a movie. That didn’t happen. He just walked back to the driver’s seat, sat down, and everything went on like normal.

Maybe we didn’t cheer because all that yelling had just cost us three hours of time. Or maybe I’m the only person that expects things in movies to happen in real life.

Three hours? Yes, three hours! There were about 30 of us sitting on the bus that day, and we each lost 6 minutes. In the end, a guy tried to save two bucks only to end up wasting three hours of everyone’s time. Assuming we all made minimum wage, that guy did 31 bucks of damage to the economy. (Or something like that. I’m a guy writing numbers on a napkin, not John Maynard Keynes.)

What a jerk the MUNI bandit was, right? Welcome to the world of bad UX decisions. Except in UX, our buses are 10 miles long.

In a 10-mile-long bus, you have about 30,000 people. Feel free to adjust the length depending on the product. (Facebook’s bus wraps around the Earth several times.) They’re all riding the same bus together and they’re all experiencing the same delays. Almost all of those delays are because of your product.

On this bus, the delays are much shorter, but the cumulative effect is much larger. A typical “Oh, that’s completely fine” delay of 115ms wastes a whole hour of time, assuming each of your users encounters it one time. If it’s on every page, and your user sees an average of eight pages, then you’ve just wasted eight hours of time total. You might as well have sat down and watched the original Lord of the Rings trilogy back-to-back.

Confirmation modals? Now we’re talking seconds, so the delays get much longer. If you’ve ever found yourself saying, “Yes, I want to log out. That is why I clicked the ‘log out’ link,” then you’re probably aware that on some level your time has been wasted. In 10-mile-bus terms, the three seconds it took to read and confirm the logout translates to an entire day of wasted time.

If you had kidnapped one of your 30,000 users and locked him up for a day, you would be put in jail. A completely unnecessary modal has the same net effect (day after day after day!), yet the monsters who implement them walk free.

Hyperbole aside, this circles back to the second-most-important rule of user experience: Respect your user’s time. And that follows the most important rule: Respect your user.

Photo by gazeronly