by Cesare Rocchi

Bikes must stay outside

by Cesare Rocchi

We are having a sunny October over here and I enjoy biking to pick up my kid at the kindergarden. There’s a gate with a bell. You ring it, say who you are about to pick up and they let you in. The kindergarden is surrounded by a beautiful garden, so from the gate to the actual building there’s a short path. I got there, rang, waited for the gate to open and biked to the building, oblivious of what I just did. I parked the bike by the door and got in, happy to pick up my kid. The janitor approached me with a severe look:

"Bikes must stay outside of the garden" "I am very sorry, I didn't know. It won't happen anymore".

I felt she was a bit harsh, but I thought she was having a bad day. While I was standing in the corridor waiting for my kid, one of his teachers approached me from behind. She tapped on my shoulder and even more severely than the janitor said:

"Do you know that bikes must stay outside of the garden?" "The janitor just told me, I didn't know, sorry about that."

Now I was beginning to feel a bit weird, especially because I didn’t know why bikes within the garden were so dangerous. But hey, I was there to pick up my boy and I was looking forward to hug him! As the teacher walked away the headmaster happened to enter the door.

"Whose bike is that?"

Well, at that point I could not take it anymore.

"It's mine. In the last four minutes I have been already warned twice. Now I perfectly know it is forbidden to introduce bikes in the garden and I am sorry about that. But, if I may, I suggest you put a sign at the gate. You know, a bike is not a tank and not everybody thinks it's dangerous to introduce one in here." "You know what, you are right."

And we walked away.

Frankly I am not discussing the rule (even if I don’t get it). I am arguing that those who break the rule just don’t know it!

Now, this little story made me ask myself a bunch of questions:

  • how many times did I make the same mistake in my designs?
  • how many times I made the customer feel guilty about something that wasn’t clearly spelled out in the UI?
  • how many times I “hoped” that customers behaved by the rules that I didn’t make explicit?

Behind a UI there’s a set of rules and expectations. The goal of the UI is to make them explicit. It’s a hard work, but it’s required if you don’t want your customers to feel guilty when they do something they are not supposed to.