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Bad UI that is deployed to many users can be the equivalent of hundreds of years of wasted human life every year. The impact can be enormous.

Take for example the Direct TV controls on a United A320. First, a rant on DirectTV…

This was revolutionary 15 years ago. “Wow! Seat back video! Wow! LIVE TV! This is like Air Force One!”

Who watches live TV and if so, what’s the likelihood that what you’d like to watch is on during your flight. If so, it’s likely going to be interrupted with a service announcement. And even if not, the quality isn’t great and it’s a bit like watching TV with an antenna. And DirectTV is aggressive in advertising. The same ad over and over again for the course of the flight.

You mean I can two movies for the price of one if I swipe my card now? NOW? NOW!??

On this flight, the passenger in front decided to recline so I’m now my face is nine inches away from the commercial running in a loop. This is when I decide to take action. I realize that you can turn off the TV by continually pressing on the brightness button on the armrest.

It’s not a continuous press to turn it off. Normally, holding down the button would mimic multiple press, then fast multiple press. No dice. Turning down required thirty presses and at least a quarter second latency between press.

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And the wrath that DirectTV has for those who turn it down. Breath on any button in the armrest and the TV comes back on at full brightness.

United is a big company. At least as a few years ago, 150M people flew United annually, so that’s 400,000 people a day on average. The 737s and A320s with DirectTV likely make up a good proportion of the flights carrying those people.

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For argument’s sake, we’ll say A319/A320s carry 25% of those daily passengers. That’s 100,000 people exposed to the bad UI, getting ads blared at them, struggling to turn off the screen. Ugh. The population of Canada exposed every year to an aggravating experience while in the air.

The irony is that the chance of a bad UI increases with the more people who have to interface with it. More people get involved in the design process, there are more moving parts, and the inefficiency of working within a large organization mean it’s not the best idea that gets through but the lowest common denominator that doesn’t get caught in a filter within a company.

Eventually, enough feedback accumulated over years can create enough momentum to get a company to breakthrough. Let’s hope we’re closer to that side of this UI problem.

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