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User Interface Hell: Why What You Sell Comes Back

I will start by insisting that I do know better, that this is not a case of the bull that continues to bump up against the electric fence even though he has been shocked many times previously. In this instance the “fence” is my upgrading to a new PDA phone followed by buying a new Vista notebook computer less than 45 days later.

This required learning how to use them, or in tech speak, learning to deal with new “user interfaces,” a euphemistic term that suggests only half the reality.

“User” I understand, but what about “interface”? What does that really mean? says interface is “a surface regarded as the common boundary of two bodies, spaces or phases.” That is the first of 11 noun and verb definitions they ascribe to the term, but in my opinion this one does as good a job explaining what it is as the other 10. Which is to say, beats me.

Well actually, I do know, but only because I have previously been down so many user interface learning roads that I had to learn something along the way. What I learned is that I am a technology masochist: a person who willingly subjects himself to self-inflicted technology humiliation, often with little justification for having done so. I do this initially telling myself that I “need” to (i.e., my devices could crash and if they did I would lose all my valuable data), only to wake up in the grip of withdrawal as I wrestle with what had been simple, now indecipherable.

As often happens there is good and bad news here. The bad news is that I initially don’t like the new technology I buy, contemplating, as most rational people might, returning it. This in turn is followed by the good news, which is I figure it out and am generally glad I made the change. And this time will be no different. I have already mastered the phone, becoming extremely proficient with the included Bubble Breaker game in the process (my last phone didn’t have that).

I know it is some “early adaptor” gene gone wrong that causes me to subject myself to these tech flagellation sessions. I do enough multivariate segmentation analysis for clients to know I am part of the 10 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population who buys technology before most do, often in spite of the overwhelming evidence that causes the other 80 percent to 90 percent to wait until it becomes cheaper/more reliable/easier to use. I support the efforts of substance abuse programs, so why isn’t there someone to talk me down from my technology ledge each time I lean over to see what’s new, what stuff I just gotta have? Or better still, someone to make it all easier? While I am willing to buy the product, I will also pay for quality help to learn how to use it.

If you sell new A/V, gaming, computing or communications hardware, this is important to you. When a consumer can’t make something work, he doesn’t think about the user interface, he thinks about the product that contains the user interface — the thing he is going to return to you first thing in the morning.

Do you want to sell more technology products? Concentrate on helping consumers after they buy and you will. Doing this not only sells products, but more importantly it also keeps them sold, and helps sell more products sooner.