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March 13, 2009

FedEx’s Counterintuitive Device Design

Posted in: Observations

FedEx Courier: Sign here.

Me: Sure. And hey, do you mind showing me how that device works?

FedEx Courier: This thing? I hate this thing.

She was clearly surprised that I would ask and even eager to show me how painful this part of her job was.

The UI is decidedly utilitarian, which seems appropriate for an enterprise focused device. A one-bit display with text and buttons, a stylus for input and enough keys to make a TV remote jealous. (If you look closely the keypad is ABCDE, not QWERTY.) Pretty basic. She then told me all the cumbersome problems; using the menus, operating with the stylus while wearing gloves, and poor contrast in sunlight.

Then the worst part. The device is too clever for its own good. The interface is oriented to the courier, with the keys at the bottom and the screen at the top. Then when the courier taps to indicate that she’s ready for the signature the interface flips 180 degrees. She presents it to people and they inevitably want to turn the device around to face them, which means the UI is now upside down.

Instead of saving time, the clever re-orientation takes more time.

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