Observing Physical Interaction.

USPS Self-Service Kiosk
USPS Self-Service Kiosk

Prompt: Pick a piece of interactive technology in public, used by multiple people. Write down your assumptions as to how it’s used, and describe the context in which it’s being used. Watch people use it, preferably without them knowing they’re being observed. Take notes on how they use it, what they do differently, what appear to be the difficulties, what appear to be the easiest parts. Record what takes the longest, what takes the least amount of time, and how long the whole transaction takes.

The piece of interactive technology I chose to observe was the USPS self-service kiosk located at the very busy Cooper Station postal office on 4th ave. The kiosk allows you to mail letters, ship packages and purchase postage. The self-service option is especially useful at this post office as there is often a very long queue to see a station employee.

I have used this machine myself, and must admit that it suffers from a poor user interface, even for someone who is well-versed in technology — so I was curious to observe someone else’s interaction with it.

Upon approaching the machine, the person is presented with 5 options to begin: Mail a Letter or Package, Buy Stamps, Return Merchandise, Make a PO Box Payment, and Look up Information. Of the 6 people I observed, 5 of them started by selecting the “Mail a Letter or Package” option. From there, the options expand exponentially! US Mail, Priority Mail, Priority 2 Day, First Class, First Class Overnight, Parcel, Letter, Flat Rate, and more! Every individual I observed appeared to be confused at this step. On average, it took 7 minutes for someone to mail a letter or package! The option of Buying Stamps appeared to be the easiest and most straightforward — on average, it took 2 minutes for someone to complete this transaction.

It was very interesting to see how information hierarchy, placement of components and design can turn something simple to incredibly complex.