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Getting to grips with a new system

I was lucky enough to observe on-the-job user training this passed week. The best part of it was that the parties involved didn’t know that I was observing the interaction from a UX perspective and therefore it happened very naturally on their part. It was a David Attenborough moment. The system in question was a POS system at a local medical centre pharmacy. The new employee was being guided through the steps needed to ring up my prescription. The item was scanned and then the trainer verbally stepped the trainee through the process:

“Escape, escape, escape. Caps Lock must be on. No, Caps Lock. Right, then ok. No, you don’t want to print the labels”, and so on and on.

3 things shout this process concerned me: 1) Why would Caps Lock be required for anything other than actual capitalization of words; 2) why is the Escape key used here to progress through a process and not to reverse or step back through the process, and 3) why does the system ask if labels need to be printed when the process is that the labels are printed in the back office by the pharmacist?

Even though POS systems are used in high traffic areas and involve physical interactions with customers, they are still often clunky and cryptic, using outdated interfaces and hardware. Large retails firms understand this problem and have invested heavily in highly efficient and usable systems, but smaller companies are still struggling with badly designed and complex systems, even though there are some really great new systems available.

It’s often difficult enough learning a new job and it’s associated norms, practice, and processes but when a system bucks the trend and uses keys for functions that are not traditionally their standard functions, it makes the learning process much more difficult, as well as increasing the chance of errors. The confidence of the new user is also eroded away as they cannot be sure that what they assume is a key’s function will actually be correct.

Help your staff and customers out by moving to simpler and more user-friendly systems!

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