The Most Difficult UX Question

This article was originally written by Brandon Satanek. As a hiring manager, I often ask perspective UX candidates to name a product they feel is very well designed and why. Sometimes, this causes the interview to become very awkward – like I asked them to solve a calculus equation in their head. Just as their eyes begin to light-up, I throw another curveball: “and, it can’t be from Apple or Google.” The UX profession often excels at finding examples of poor design. Very likely, this is an indictment of most products in-general rather than our inability to think positively. But, I also think we take pleasure in critiquing things – it’s the nature of our job. Put a bunch of UX people in a bad elevator at any design conference and hilarity will ensue. I’ve always felt mildly guilty about my interview question. As a way to atone for this sin and give future candidates some tips (well, those smart enough to use Google!), I thought I would share a few products that I might provide as an answer to the same question.

Automated External Defibrillators

User need addressed: Life Why this is a good design: Eight years of medical school condensed into one device! As UX professionals, we obsess over making sure a user can purchase a trinket on some ecommerce website. And, this is a user in a relatively low-stress environment doing a task they likely have had some significant experience with in other situations. Imagine being a person who is watching their friend, family member or even stranger suffer a medical emergency. Stressful context-of-use? You bet. Moreover, the user likely has minimal-to-no training on a life-saving device that may soon deliver 150 joules of electricity into another person. Typically, these AED’s use simple illustrations as well as voice prompts to walk the user through applying the electrode pads onto the ‘patient.’ Newer models even feature an LCD which can help with this process. Then, they have an automated algorithm which determines whether a shock is needed. A beautiful allocation of functionality between user and device that can have a truly meaningful impact.

OXO Measuring Cups

User need addressed: Ergonomics/Visibility Why this is a good design: These measuring cups have a loyal fan-base and are often cited as examples of good design. They allow the user to easily see the current measurement by looking down at the values printed on an angled surface. On ordinary cups, a user might have to bend over to see this information. With the OXO cups, a normal posture can be maintained. But, I am including them on this list for a different reason. As designers, we are sometimes tempted to look at costly solutions that highly leverage technology. Sometimes, this is helpful (see the AED’s above). Other times, we are asked to be innovative within constraints. All OXO did was change the shape of the product to create new user benefits and capture a significant part of the market. A completely *free* solution open to any competitor who was creative enough to think of it first.

10-Year Batteries in Smoke Detectors

User need addressed: Sleep (and safety, of course) Why this is a good design: I am including this last product because it directly addresses a pet-peeve of mine. The smoke detectors in my home are wired to the electrical system and each utilizes a 9 volt battery as a redundant backup system. However, this battery must be replaced on regular intervals – usually at the worst possible time. In what I call, “the cruelest tweet,” I’ll inevitably hear a chirp in the middle-of-the-night indicating the battery is low. Of course, it doesn’t just chirp once, it continues to chirp every few minutes. Replacing it is an acrobatic exercise of accessing a tricky compartment while standing on a chair. And then…. uh oh, I realize that I have fallen into critique mode!

My cynical assumption was that the smoke detector companies must be in some secret collusion with the battery companies to boost sales. I’ve since discovered that there are now smoke detectors with built-in batteries that will last for ten years without replacement. It earns a place in this list because sometimes the best interaction design is no interaction at all. Also, solving people’s common pet-peeves, even small ones, can drive new product interest and sales.

What’s your answer?

If asked to name a well-designed product, do you have a go-to answer? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below. If not, we are fortunate to have the privilege as designers to try and make products ourselves to add to the list. Brandon Satanek is a UX design manager in corporate America currently focusing on the original “app’s” – appliances! Recently, he can be found working on his new blog, EXPERIENCEdzine (, which is dedicated to exploring the creativity found in Disney parks and other experiences – and examining how we can use this to improve our own products and services. Follow him @brandonsatanek.