A balanced user experience starts with the box

Recently, Joel Spolsky pointed out the brilliantly obvious: the groovy new boxes for Microsoft’s next generation of software offer a poor user experience. As Joel points out,

A box that many people can’t figure out how to open without a Google search is an unusually pathetic failure of design.

For those of you who want the full details, my colleague Karl Sabino has dug out the official Microsoft help page for opening the box.

1. Cut the tape along the edges of the box

2. Peel the label off the front of the box3. Pull the red tab to the right to open the box

Yes that’s right. A help page for the packaging.

I’d love to know the traffic stats for this page. By assuming that each page impression corresponds to about 10 minutes of user frustration, we could calculate the total amount of customer time wasted by this nonsense.

Still, I guess we should be thankful that the same designers aren’t working on the escape slides for Boeing.

Balancing easy, useful and delightful

Microsoft have recently been talking about the importance of the aesthetic quality of a good user experience. Good for them. It’s very important. Beautiful products make us more likely to try them out and, by putting us in the right frame of mind, make us more effective at actually using them.

But this box seems to illustrate the problems of going too far towards the aesthetic, and forgetting the easy/useful part of the equation. It’s cute, groovy, cool – but it’s a pain to use. And that’s not a balanced user experience. That’s where the web was back in 1998, and we all thought things had moved on since then.

“It’s a business requirement”

Maybe the box is hard to open for business reasons. Perhaps its some anti piracy measure or linked to the licensing agreement.

That’s no excuse. If a business “need” inconveniences customers, it needs to be re-thought. Why? Because if you treat your customers badly, they’ll treat you badly – asking for additional expensive support, requiring heavy marketing expenditure to avoid churn, damaging your brand with negative blog posts. Which all cost you money in the end. In the words of Colin Shaw, “You get the customers you deserve.”

Patching the hole

One thing that Microsoft have done right: issued a “service patch”. They know there’s a problem with the customer experience and they’ve done what they can in the short term to take the edge off the problem. They’ve published a web page. The next step is to stick the instructions to the box, so that you don’t have to search the web to find them.

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