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I went to the shop to buy a sandwich

Published by Vincent Pickering

The perfect house guest, stays for exactly the right amount of time and only asks for what the host can offer.

While visiting a sandwich store I witnessed the following incident:

The shop assistant spoke smiling and welcoming

‘What bread would you like sir?’

‘I’ll take the Italian please’.

‘Sorry, we have run out of Italian’ the assistant replied.

His face visibly perturbed,

‘OK. Herb and cheese then’.

Her eyes darting around the room as if she was tracking a drunk fly desperately looking for an exit. She looked anywhere but the shoppers face.

’I don’t have that either I am afraid’. Her voice now strained by the exchange.

Now the shopper was irate, he snapped back.


The friendly outgoing demeanour of moments ago now a distant memory, the assistant through gritted teeth.

‘I only have plain white or brown’.

Anger swelling in the shoppers face, he decided it was time to assert his authority. Drenched in sarcasm he replied.

’Out of the 8 types of bread you usually have…You only have 2?’

The assistant willing herself anywhere else in the world but this moment quietly said.

‘Yes… Sorry’.

Firmly in control of the situation, the shopper had her on the ropes. Sarcasm was working in his favour, he persisted.

‘Why didn’t you give me those options in the first place?’.

Blushing, shrinking within herself by the second. She could barely see over the counter, the shop assistant quietly whispered.

‘Sorry, I am supposed to ask you what bread you would like, it’s the rules’.

The shopper delivered another sucker punch.

’Never mind I’ll go somewhere else…’

Then unexpected the shopper delivered the knockout blow

‘…And I would suggest EVERYONE else does too’.

He yelled to the onlookers as he walked out the store.

The line got significantly smaller as many others followed.

On considering user experience, be mindful that it is a dialogue between the system and the user, in the conversation above, had the shop assistant apologised upfront that they only had 2 types of bread available the customer could have made a quick decision early on in the process, and although their preferred option was not available the dissatisfaction they would feel is hugely diminished. Better still, put up a sign and let the shopper decide if they want to even join the line at all.

In the forced process of teasing salient information from the shop assistant the customer reaches a point of frustration where they are unwilling to accept anything less than what they originally wanted. Faced with disappointment at each level of disclosure (very little is going to placate them and at this point they will leave the situation frustrated) with the possibility of not returning again.

It is the job of the designer to anticipate the needs of the user upfront and provide shortcuts around common scenarios. Provide an environment for the user to feel that the solution they are engaged with is working for them and they are profiting from the transaction more than they are inputting.

Complexity is rarely a friend to the designer and it should be minimised or expunged at almost every opportunity. If the designer is aware of a deficiency in the product, provide a way to circumnavigate the problem, minimise its exposure, or remove the feature entirely. If you offer the user only a partial, or poorly implemented solution of what they desired they will feel more cheated than had you never offered it at all.

There are rare occurrences where complexity should be designed in to a user interface or system; topmost is when safety is to be considered. For example, it should not be easy to get in to a medicine bottle because we do not wish children to accidentally take potentially harmful substances. Consider what would happen should the system design fail or be abused and assess the risk. Never assume users will not abuse the system.

Anything that can be done or is possible will occur, it is the designers responsibility to ensure they have considered the implications fully and prepared for the consequences.