Have you noticed that when you buy gas that the user experience at the pump varies wildly? As a graphic designer, user experience has become hugely important. It’s not just how something is designed (user-interface), but also the user experience that matters. The user interface influences the user experience, but it’s also thinking through what someone wants to accomplish and how they can do that quickly. This could be a web application, but it could also be something like buying gas.

My local Kroger has the cheapest gas near my house, but the user experience is very poor. They start off with the question: “Are you a Kroger Customer?” I’m thinking, “Sure, my wife buys groceries here sometimes.” If you say, “yes,” then you are asked to insert your Kroger card. They could have started with, insert your Kroger card and taken out a step. Next, if you insert or swipe your card, it will not register the magnetic strip. They actually want you to hold the back of the card an inch away from a scanner to read the barcode on the back of your card, not the magnetic strip. This is not intuitive.

My former next door neighbor who was very gracious to let me photograph him at an old gas pump near our house.

Many gas pumps have 12 – 18 buttons. To limit the number of buttons, some are combined. I’ve seen where the word “No” is huge on a button, then “Enter / Yes” is tiny and hard to find. At my local Kroger, as you enter your 4-digit pin number, you get an audible sound as you push the buttons. It is usually good to have audible feedback as you push the buttons. However, the responsiveness is so slow that when I enter my 4-digit code, I only hear two beeps. Those beeps are loud and uncomfortable. It’s probably damaging my hearing and the hearing of the guy three pumps over.

Like a frog boiling in a pot, I eventually accepted this as normal. I learned the process for using their pumps feeling like I finally deciphered their code. However, yesterday, I bought gas at Costco. I found myself enjoying buying gas because the experience was so much better. I was instructed to swipe the Costco card, then my debit card. I got 4 quiet beeps as I entered my pin-number. On screen, I was asked, “Do you want a printed receipt?”  On the screen it said “< No” on the left and “Yes >” on the right. I had a clear choice and there was not much of a way I could accidentally push the wrong button. It was an easier and more pleasant experience. At that point, I didn’t even mind the advertisements on the screen while pumping the gas. Clearly Costco has paid attention to the discipline of User Experience. It was someone’s job to decide the wording, order, and design of the gas buying process. Costco, way to rock the gas buying experience and employing someone to care about the details that matter to customers.

This same discipline of user experience should be applied to websites, web apps, and even unboxing your product. Ever bought an Apple product? Apple even makes opening the box special. Not only is the box designed, but it is thought out how opening the box will make you feel about Apple and your purchase.