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Pizza as UI Part I

I’m going to discuss the user experience at a local pizza restaurant as a model for what not to do in user interface design.

In Easthampton, there used to be a pizza place called Pizza Wings and Things – it closed and was purchased by a place call Antonio’s, which has a reputation for carrying erudite (and delicious) pizza.  The new location shares a lot with the Amherst shop in terms of tasty food and UI that is geared only towards the experts.

Here is a shot I took with my phone of the selection:


They have 8 pans, each with up to 4 different types of pizzas per pan.  There are 32 choices, give or take.  One thing that is absent is any kind of labeling.  If I come in as a novice, I have no idea what my actual choices are.  Furthermore, there is no menu available – nothing on the wall, no printed sheets by the cash register.  Since Antonio’s is popular, it may be crowded during lunch.  This would be a good thing for a novice, because it allows him/her to actually look over choices and make a decision.  I say ‘would’ because the problem with the presentation is that unless the pizza toppings are manifestly obvious, the only way to find out what is on the pizza is to ask the staff or an expert.  An expert isn’t always available and the staff, while usually courteous is working a lunch rush and by having to engage them, I’m slowing them down.

None of these things are particularly good things.  My customer experience is pretty lousy: I don’t like having to be dependent on a rushed staff.  I don’t like feeling rushed.  I don’t really like not knowing what’s there.  I don’t find it welcoming.  Worse than being a total novice is being adventurous with some experience.  I don’t have the same vocabulary as the staff or my guess as to what is on a pizza slice is just plain wrong, so I have a communications problem that often requires me to make another decision, now making everyone behind me grumpier.

They could fix this – they could have a menu, a list of daily specials, and so on.  A menu would be better for other things as well – apparently Antonio’s also sells salads, subs, pasta, wraps, and chicken wings: none of which is apparent from the restaurant.  I only know what they sell from going to their web site and by casual observation of a bag of Italian bread for making subs.

In addition to a menu, it would be better to label the actual slices with a tag (it could either be on the tag, or a number that refers to a special).  They won’t do this even though it would make the overall experience better.  The reason is as pizza slices are purchased, the staff routinely merges pans that are running low so they can fill up a new pan.  Merging pans with tags would be painful when ensuring that the tags move around with the pizza.  Oddly enough, not labeling is a restaurant feature, but it makes their life easier, not mine.  It also has another problem – when the pizza is moved from one place to another, they may have just tanked an order further back in line.  If someone else has made a choice spatially (which is more or less imperative), it may now be in a different place.  If the line is long, a customer may have to reacquire their target a few times.

Here are the UI things that can be taken away from this:

  • If you create a UI strictly for experts, you will alienate most of your potential customer base.  Don’t make this choice lightly.  “But my software is great” (i.e., “But my pizza is delicious”) is not justification for this.
  • Don’t present too much information at once if you can avoid it.
  • Labels are important; having them is a convenience for your customers.
  • Don’t make spatial changes in your UI solely for your own convenience.  Humans operate spatially and work by muscle memory.

I go to Antonio’s periodically – maybe once every other week.  I might be inclined to go more often if my experience were better.  For the time being, I only go when I want a walk as well: when it suits my convenience.

Published Monday, May 18, 2009 9:41 AM by Steve Hawley


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