The worst user interface ever

I recently encountered one of the worst user interfaces that's even been designed. I came across this on a recent trip to Las Vegas when I stayed at one of the big-name hotels, although I won't say which one.

This particular hotel had an automated system that you could use to set a wake-up call for the morning. You were supposed to dial "*7" and then enter the time you wanted your call set for. When I did this, I heard a loud beeping sound: "BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP…," with the beeps coming at about three or four per second.

"D'oh!" I thought. "That's not right. Let me try that again." (That's not really what I thought, but that's a version that's suitable for repeating in mixed company.)

I tried again and encountered another annoying sound. This one was a constant tone: "BEEEEEEEEEE."

Giving up on the automated system, I called the hotel operator, who proceeded to tell me that my wake-up call had been set and that the "BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP…" was how you were told that you had done this and that the "BEEEEEEEEE" was the system's way of telling you that you already had a wake-up call set.

Now I'm not an expert on user-interface design, but I have to believe that using the message "BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP…" has to be one of the worst ways to tell a user that they've successfully set a wake-up call. Most systems have a message that's closer to, "Your wake up call for …. eight … a.m….. has been set. Have a nice day." That's one that most users quickly and easily understand. It's also one that probably keeps the number of calls to the hotel operator fairly low, which probably also keeps the support costs for the system fairly low.

On the other hand, the message that I encountered seems like one that's designed to do the exact opposite: to keep the number of calls to the hotel operator as high as possible and to thus keep the support costs for the system as high as possible.

The only way that I can explain the user interface that I experienced is that when a marketing person tried to quantify usability in some way they accidentally dropped a minus sign somewhere. Then, when they passed their design to the engineering department and asked them to maximize the usability of their system the usability was actually minimized instead of maximized. I find it hard to believe that someone really thought that "BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP …" was a good way to tell a user anything.

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