A short story about love, UX and perfect meals

This article was published in UX collective

My first birthday

This was my first birthday. And those behind me and my brother were our grandparents.

My grandmother was accusing us of being “picky eaters”. Of course she was. She was born in 1923. In a time when you were actually lucky if you could eat everyday.

I was born in 1981. In a time of abundance and I was choosing what I wanted to eat (and mostly what I didn’t want).

We were eating every lunch everyday at my grandmother place because my parents were both working.

She was challenged.

She took grand parenting and eating very very seriously.

Of course she didn’t choose to prepare us everything all together. This would be a disgrace. And a waste of food. A disgraceful waste of food.

She decided to get in the long time research. She began preparing small variation of the same meal and she was testing it with us. (At that time no, I didn’t know anything about A-B testing).

She remembered the results, even noticed it down when she realised she was getting older: my brother likes spicy food, I could not digest garlic, my uncle had some problem with mushrooms and my grandpa loved overcooked spaghetti.

Nowadays I cook for my kids and I always have leftovers. But at her place no. There were no leftovers.

She mastered it.

My grandmother died last January.

I didn’t realise what was she doing. She was from another generation and she saw the world changing. She adjusted and learned.

She took the challenge of feeding us with healthy food and made the best out of it.

She worked in silence and we barely noticed what she was doing. We just knew she was loving and caring. And we were all very happy to have lunch at her place and went back every day. Of course was not only for the food.

The food was just an excuse.

And it was perfect.

3 buttons kids UI


Sometimes I think I am doomed with my UX career. It is like when I studied Film history: I could not see any film anymore without making some sort of connection or analysis about what the director was doing there. No film looked the same after it.

This is exactly what is going on now with my life and UX.

This Saturday I went to an amusement park with my kids. We have been running and hiding and chasing and enjoying the walk through the wood. We stopped for a picnic on a bank and right next to us was a big box. It was perfectly fitting the height of my kids and had only one button in the middle.

My son went to the box and pressed the button:

  • For German press the button once, for English, press twice, for Dutch press three times.

The voice was in German and at the beginning I did not menage to hear the whole message. My kid was pressing the button again before the voice was finishing the sentence. And it started all over again.

Some other kids passing by were also pushing, listening a bit and going away.

I went to my kid and pushed the button once as soon as the voice was done with the instructions. The voice began to explain what to do in case of bees and hornists. All my three kids where now listening. And it was interesting.

We went on searching for other boxes and after several efforts my kids adjusted to the UI and were using the boxes in the right way. They were still annoyed. They had to hear the whole voice before getting to the important part.

The box

One button.

It was simplified to the absolute minimalism. There was no way of doing something wrong.

I recently red this article

Where was stated that: “voice makes experience personal”.
The article make a very good point taking into consideration the kid as an active player.

Behind this single Box there were a lot of interface thoughts. How to make it interesting, easy and useful for every kid. But in this case the voice was asking my kids to stand still and listen. Listen until the end.

It is already difficult for my kids to stand still and listen even in an easier environment. But there, in the middle of the wood and between physical activities, it was absolutely impossible.

The Challenge

So, going back to focus on the challenge I was seeing there: Three languages and one button.

Three language and a child-friendly user interface.

And we should not underestimate the factor time.

Those kids were bored because they got no direct information or result after pressing the button. They were in a rush. We must move faster than a good functional internet site. We have like 1 to 2 second to grab their attention.

Could there be a better solution?

Kids cannot read. I mean, my older one can, she is eight. But she would never find the calm for actively reading in such a situation.

The other two are still too young. But they were exactly the target age and group for the story behind the interface.

Of course the first solution we all come to think now is the flag one. But we also know that Identifying languages with flags is generally a bad idea. Flags can come in handy when selecting countries instead of languages.

And this was not my case. I need to identify languages. And make it easy for no-reading kids to understand.

The Solution

I have to think of my kids and their behaviour every time they interact with an interface. They push all the buttons. All of them. Without any reason apart from curiosity.

Why not have three buttons instead?

They will try to push all of them. Understand only the voice they are targeted to and listen directly to the interesting story.

Pushing every time three buttons until getting to the right one will on the long way will be result in too much effort.

On the top of it there should be the written language: German, English, Dutch. In original language.

Kids will not be able to read it. But they will push the button. And after the second or third time they will push the button with the same words on it and they will or will not learn something. It is not important. They will just learn it by repeating the same actions and errors. Learning by doing, the best strategy where most of the kids excell.

Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

Children will play to find easily what they are looking for. They don’t like to search like adults instead of just clicking https://medium.com/@uxart/before-designing-web-ui-for-children-c302c6072269.

The take away

Yes, thinking interfaces for kids is not a game. It is challenging. And sometimes the easiest solution, one button, is not the best one.

Let the kids experiment, being curious and pushing buttons.

User interface for kids more info

This Article was published on Medium

Great Expectations

The icebreaker

I usually begin my presentations with an icebreaker
I start with Jim as a little kid

Jim was having fun. He turned the light off and on. And off and on again. It was real magic. Just pressing a button on the wall he could make something happen. Something as beautiful as light. He probably needed to be sure he was not dreaming or wanted to drive his parents crazy. Fact is that he tried and tried again.

But Jim is not a kid anymore. 
He forgot how fun it was to turn off and on the light.

Nowadays, when he turn off the light is because he wants to sleep. If he turn it on again he probably needs to wake up or read something. He does it with a purpose. He even forgot the switch. Until…

Until that same light does not turn on. Jim is uncertain at the beginning. Is it a temporary problem? Did I pushed strongly enough? Let me try again!
After a first feeling of uncertainty, he will experience anger. He need to call the electricians, he need to spend money and time on something he does not want. It is just a light! It should work!

Jim is in the middle of a relationship. The relationship between him and the switcher. And the first thing we build in a relationship, the very first things that provokes so many diverses is just there: THE EXPECTATION.

We push the button and we expect the light to turn on. It does not work, we feel disappointed. Why? We really need that light right now! How could it do that to me?

Photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash

The power of expectation

During this summer I was flying to my home country (Italy) as every year, to visit my family and enjoying the sun. 
One evening my kids and I were trying to cross the street and we had to wait five minutes until somebody was finally letting us going to the other side. And I was thankful.

When you do not expect for somebody to stop or better, when you are expecting nobody to stop, you will be thankful with the one being kind enough to let you use your right.

“How kind of him!”

But let’s be serious. I live since more than 15 years in Germany and I know my rights. I know that if I stop in front of a crossing street sign the auto has to stop. This is the law. Pedestrian are number one. Cars have to wait. 
Try to drive a car and not to stop it in front of a pedestrian crossing the street in Germany. There will be people taking your number plate and more that one advising your behaviour to the police. And those people will get very angry. I do get very angry at people not giving me my right here in Germany.

Photo by Daryan Shamkhali on Unsplash

Than: why am I thankful in Italy for the only one who let me cross the street and get angry when somebody stops to late (but still let me pass) here in Germany?


We human are made for adapting. It is sometimes difficult to believe (when I have to show my grandmother how to use a new app) but we as human being are made flexible and ready to adapt. As kids we adapt to our body constantly growing, we adapt to new friend at school, to new colleagues, to new situations. Not always at the same speed and not everybody with the same enthusiasm, but definitely we are made for it.

I do remember having a Nokia mobile Phone and not being able to surf the internet with it. I did not have the necessity back then, and the internet was still something for nerds. But I also remember my first iphone. The first time I searched for information on my way to work. The first time I navigate with a gps google map to the place we were supposed to meet. If I now compare it to the fact that I will change website if it does not open during the first 3 seconds I could believe I am going crazy. I believe I will not be able to get to my own house sometimes without a navigator telling me where to drive.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

I have adjusted to the new technology. So much that I give it for granted. 
Yes, I will have internet everywhere I go. 
Yes, I can communicate with my mother even from the other side of the world. 
Yes, I will push the switch and the light goes on.

How can we make the better out of this?

Focus on the needs

We need to understand our target group. We need to write hobbies, family situation and works of our typical user. Without knowing our customer we cannot understand his needs and his expectations.

Once we understood for who we do the job, we should put ourself in his shoes and understand why they visit our website. For as much as we like telling the user about our history we should understand that this will not be the main reason the user will visit our website.

It is crazy but there are still examples out there of websites selling a service or a product only on the second or third page. If you have a product with a good marketing concept people will come to your website and buy it. It is so easy. Everything in between, every information you believe should find its place before letting the customer buy your product is in the wrong place.

It is in the customer interest and normal behaviour to find additional information to the product. But the option to buy it should be the first. The rest is, as said, additional.

Photo by Rohan Makhecha on Unsplash

Let’s imagine to be in the middle of the night. Everything is very dark and we hear some noises. We want to turn on the light and instead of the switcher we find a post-it note telling us about the history of the light and how cool and highly intelligent our engineers are. Or we push the switcher and instead of seeing the light a voice begin explaining us about the best way to produce green light and Kilometer 0.

Do not let me take away your imagination too much. You know what kind of reaction you would have.

Why do you do that to your customer?

Fulfilment is contagious

Great Expectations are for dreamers. It’s not by case that Charles Dickens “Great Expectation” is ranked as the 4th British novel of all times. A poor boy trying to change his life. “The pursuit of happiness” or lately “A star is born” or even ” The queen”, all prised stories following the same plot: daring is worth and never stop dreaming. Why do we love those movies? Because they let us believe that one day it could happen to us.

Now, there is a huge difference between being satisfied because the light goes smoothly on when we push the switcher and becoming a star.

Photo by rob walsh on Unsplash

Do you remember the young Jim? The one who loved driving his parents crazy and was fascinated by the magic of electricity? I began my presentation with him only to come back now and remember that there is a little kid in all of us and we all loved enjoying and having fun turning on and off the light. In this simple switch you can summarise all UX theories.

In this case we should also remember that we are all dreamers expecting something. For nature.

Let’s not disappoint those expectations.

Published on Medium