Nuance, not novelty, usually delivers the best user experience

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Before I joined Hotfoot Design as a partner I travelled to London every week for business.

As my meetings were often arranged at short notice I had to book a hotel at the last minute.

This meant I got to stay at some really plush places all over central London at a discount, as even premium and boutique hotels would rather their rooms be occupied at a much reduced rate than not at all.

And those rooms would often be fantastic, with great views, and lots of space. But one thing that drove me to distraction was the technology, as it was often so unnecessarily complex.

Setting the air-con meant deciphering a series of abstract symbols to escape an arctic breeze. Using the shower required careful analysis of multiple settings to avoid being scalded. And forget about watching TV – the minimalist remote controls gave no clue about how to change the channels.

In one room even switching the lights on became an absurd challenge, as it required dealing with a central touch screen “command centre” with layers of menus to select what I wanted to do.

I longed for a simple button to push, dial to turn, or switch to flick. I was usually staying for just a night or two. I had no desire to study an instruction manual to accomplish what ought to be a simple task.

I am no technophobe. In fact I love technology, but only when the execution is good and the context is appropriate.

These hotels had fallen into the trap of thinking they had to differentiate themselves from their budget competitors with technological novelties. Perhaps they feared a humble light switch would not be impressive enough for their discerning guests.

The most satisfying objects we interact with every day are usually not innovations but iterations of tried and tested products.

It is nuance, not novelty, that most often creates a good user experience.

This article originally appeared in the Lancaster Guardian, where I am a guest columnist.

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