Frustration is the mother of entrepreneurialism. Many of humanity's best ideas, from the windshield wiper to the Cuisinart to the iPhone, started with a person throwing up their hands and saying, "Screw it, I'm fixing this myself." Without problems, there are no solutions.
These days, "creativity" comes in many forms, and an ability to recognize points of friction in user experiences—and ultimately eliminate them—can be an extremely valuable way to apply the craft. You just have to know where to look. If you would like to learn how to better tune your radar to the ultra-high frequencies of minor human discomfort, there is no better way to start than by channeling me, the most neurotic man in the world.
Most Saturday mornings for the past 12 years I have stood wedged between two beverage coolers in my local bagel shop drafting a letter in my head titled, "The La Bagel Delight Bagel Ordering and Payment Process: An Optimization Plan." La Bagel Delight is a free-for-all when it comes to the mechanisms of bagel commerce. Walk in there, and you're walking into the International Waters of breakfast food acquisition. Customers order, wait for, and pick up their bagels from the same 100 square feet of space at the back of the store—a setup that turns even the most well-adjusted human into a hunched, groveling Breakfast Gollum slithering through the masses to retrieve the goods.
It's a process that could easily be made 10 times more pleasant and efficient by simply reconfiguring the shop and designating lines for ordering and pickup. The fact that the ownership hasn't realized this drives me insane. I find myself almost uncontrollably compelled to inform them that this is a problem.
I talk about things like this constantly. My family does not derive joy from these musings. Maybe you will.
Here are some things that I noticed this past Monday:
• The vertical poles on older N-line New York City subway cars are positioned in such a manner that people by the doors have nowhere to hold on when the car is full.
• My breakfast spot sells only green bananas. I can only assume this is to accommodate people who are buying an egg and cheese for today, and fruit for next Tuesday.
• At lunch, Pret A Manger gives me a bag that's too short for my sandwich, which ends up sticking out of the top, past the handles, so you have to squeeze the bag closed around the sandwich. I feel strongly that Pret should have measured its sandwiches before landing on a universal bag size.
• Throughout the day I take approximately seven inadvertent screenshots on my new iPhone because the volume and power buttons sit on opposing sides of the device and depressing these buttons simultaneously (some might simply refer to this as squeezing the phone) creates a screenshot.
• I play Stevie Wonder through my car's audio system. This is the default album image:
• I am forced to watch a 30-second ad before I can see a 7-second ESPN clip.
• I listen to Sonos in my house. Sonos has taken everything that's fun and easy about playing digital music and summarily discarded it. Sonos is exactly what music listening software would be like if it were designed by the Department of Motor Vehicles.
• At night I use my television. SOURCE: HDMI1, HDMI2, CABLE IN, PC IN. I am the only one in my house who is willing navigate the backwaters of this interface.
• CBS is on channel 2, AMC on channel 54, and HBO on channel 400. I manually toggle between the three using the channel guide and the up/down arrows (which, incidentally, move the screen in the opposite direction from the page up and page down arrows).
• Later I spend 15 minutes trying to find National Lampoon's Vacation, searching Netflix, HBO, Showtime, Hulu and Amazon Prime to see if I've already got it for free before giving up and paying for it on-demand.
Yes, that's what I thought about on Monday.
My fixation on these issues is not normal, but usability frustration is common. The ways in which we move through our environments, the paths we take through interfaces, and the order in which information is served to us have all been pre-determined by groups with ranging objectives, many of which have nothing to do with providing a good end-user experience. It's not in Spectrum cable's business interests to allow me to move HBO next to AMC in my channel guide, but its unwillingness to provide the best user-centric solution opens the door to someone else who can.
Frustration points translate into opportunity. In a recent New Yorker profile on Rent the Runway, CEO Jennifer Hymen cites the notion that "every woman has the feeling of opening up her closet and seeing the dozens of dead dresses that she's worn only once," as their catalyst for starting her clothing rental company.
There isn't a multimillion-dollar solution for every pain point, but you'll rarely go wrong if your mission is to fix things for people. The ability to use creativity to alleviate people's frustrations is a superpower. If you can harness it, you will be a hero.
Top photo: Katerina Kamprani / The Uncomfortable