real-life tales of usability fail

The machines that aren't broken

Typical: of course the ticket machine chooses a busy time to go wrong. In Oxford station, queues were forming at a machine that refused to display Network Railcard as a valid railcard. The woman at the front of the queue tried for quite some time to make it work, then gave up and sought assistance. I was eavesdropping on her conversation with James, a busy member of station staff, when I got to the front of my own queue and encountered an identical problem. Soon it became clear that all the ticket machines had the same issue: refusing to display Network Railcard as an option.


Take a look at this photo of a summer shoe sale at Next.


For the benefit of people who’ve never bought shoes in the sale: it’s the norm for sale shoes to be organised by size rather than by style. That’s basically because all the sale stock is out on the shelves, so there’s no point finding a shoe you like in the wrong size and then asking if they have it in a 5. They won’t. It’s a jungle out there.

Cross is the word

Here’s another observation test for you. Does the pub pictured below sell food?


Not sure? Have a look at a different view of the same pub.


Still not sure? How about now?


One final picture in case you’re still dithering:


Melaleuca alternifooledya

Here’s a little test of your observation skills: how much would you expect to pay for one of the bottles of tea-tree oil pictured?


If you said £3.09, you’re wrong. If you said £4.09, I can see that you’ve worked out this is a trick question, but you’re also wrong.

Don’t worry, I got it wrong too. I bought one of the bottles of tea-tree oil from that shelf and I didn’t realise until I left the shop that I’d been charged £7.79 for it.

The blank back of the monitor

When you get your blood pressure taken at the doctor’s, what do you see? Something like this?


In reality, probably not. When I think of blood pressure readings I imagine numbers on a display, but my actual experience of blood pressure measurement is different.

Not once, in all my years of visiting the doctor, have I seen the front of a blood pressure monitor in the surgery. It’s always positioned so that the doctor can see the numbers, but I can’t.

Stealer's wheel

Today I discovered that the front wheel of my bike had been stolen. It must have been an easy crime to carry out; the bike was parked at Oxford train station with just the frame locked to the stand. It probably only took the thief a few minutes to get the wheel off.

I was tempted not to bother reporting it to the police because I know very well that I won’t get the wheel back, but I decided I didn’t want this crime, however small, to be invisible.

Why I don't write about customer service

It was Shrove Tuesday 2010 and my Christian friend was mentally preparing for her Lent fast. Well, I say “mentally”, but I suppose having a nice lunch counts as physically preparing too. As we ordered dessert, we ended up having a silly debate about how much weight she would lose by going vegan and giving up sweet things. We decided to solve the argument the scientific way by weighing her before and after Lent, so we went to use the scales at Boots.