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Stupid Usability #47

Auto Inconsistencies

Written By: High Monkey
Posted: 4/28/2014

From the mind of Virgil Carroll, Principal Human Solutions Architect at High Monkey:

Ok, so this stupid usability post may be considered ‘stupid’ by many, but if you travel very much (like I do) you are going to understand this frustration.  To many, travel may seem like a great thing.  To me, travel is a necessary evil for my business to continue to thrive.  Where traveling around the world opens my eyes up to the wonderful variety different corners of the globe offer, it also often shows me just how inconsistent it is as well.  Where I expect this when traveling in different parts of the world, overall when traveling throughout the US I expect many things to be the same for the most part.  There are few things that frustrate me more about the inconsistencies of travel than the cars I rent.  Where I am an Emerald Club Executive with National, which makes the rental process fast and consistent, the car I drive is completely dependent on the inventory at a given rental location on a given day.  This means that every time I travel, I may also have a completely different vehicle and have to learn its unique ‘features’.
There is no ‘feature’ that frustrates me more than the gas tank.  If you have driven more than one vehicle in your life, you know that where a few things are consistent (such as location of steering wheel, driver’s seat vs. passenger), the consistencies are few and far between compared to all the different vehicle configurations, button locations, etc… which we can experience.  This is especially true when you talk about the location of the gas tank.  Though I have gotten used to looking at the arrow on my fuel gauge, if I am in a rush to get back to the airport and need to ‘top off the tank’, my first pass at which side is often wrong.  As you can see from the photo below, the gas tank can sit on the driver’s side, passenger side or sometimes even in the back of the car.

Where this is often no more than a minor annoyance, I have also found myself moving into one spot at the gas station only to find I am on the wrong side and need to move.  Where this may seem silly to most, when you are in a time crunch this can provide a small irritation, but it’s the next part that sometimes drives me crazy.  Where if you don’t know the location of the gas cap, you have many visual indicators to help you figure out where it is (i.e. you can look at the arrow on the side of your fuel gauge or look at your side view mirrors to see where it is), when you try to open the gas tank, this can be the paramount of frustration.  So not only can you have gas tanks in different locations on the vehicle but also EVERY single vehicle has a different opening mechanism for the gas cap door.  Some you pop the cover, some you lift the cover and some have no cover.  Where that can be irritating, there is nothing more irritating than the cover release inside a vehicle.  As you can see below this release can be one of many places, plus be different shapes, sizes and functionality.  Sometimes you press a button, sometimes you pull a lever.  Sometimes it sites in the dashboard, sometimes in the floor, sometimes in the glove compartment.  There is no rhyme nor reason to where it is placed and no indication on where to find it.  So I have spent more than a few times in different cars, while in a rush to catch a flight, crawling all over the vehicle trying to find how to fill it up with gas so I can return it.

So what does this have to do with usability?  Well actually a lot.  Two of the main principals of good usability is meeting the heuristics of Efficiency and Learnability.  When I get into a new vehicle, I have to spend time learning about its individual functions.  Where this is understandable, the issue is around all the different features of vehicles and how often similar vehicles have different features and functionality located in different places around the car.  So the learning curve is often very high depending on what you need the vehicle to do.  So from a learnability perspective, this is something you have to do on your own and sometimes don’t always get it right and make mistakes.  From an efficiency heuristic, often labeling in different vehicles (and locations of said labels) are inconsistent at best and often non-existent.  So if I have to get out the owner’s manual or crawl all over the vehicle to figure out how to open the gas cap, this is not very efficient.
Auto manufacturers have learned a lot over the past 100+ years since man has been driving.  Where they continue to add new features that add convenience to the driver and passengers alike, often time the usability of these features, especially across multiple vehicles, is severely lacking.

Chad's Bio Coming Soon!

More About Virgil

Virgil Carroll is the owner and president of High Monkey – based in Minneapolis Minnesota. Virgil also wears the multiple ‘hats’ of Principle Human Solutions Architect and SharePoint Architect.

Virgil is one of those rare individuals who can dive deep into technical topics while speaking clearly to the business owners of a project and never forgetting that the end user experience has the highest priority. He calls it using both sides of his brain. Virgil is passionate about leveraging technologies ‘out of the box’ as much as possible with a focus on the strategic use of content to create websites that deliver the right content to the right audience on the right device at the right time. Virgil brings high energy, an ironic wit, and a sense of grounded perspective whenever he speaks to an audience. Virgil regularly speaks at conferences and user groups throughout the United States and occasionally in Europe.

Posted: 4/28/2014 12:00:00 AM by Brian Haukos | with 0 comments