Believe it or not, but an InfoDev at work is an InfoDev for life. As Information Developers, we perceive the world from the users’ perspective always questioning ourselves: “Is it clear enough? Can a procedure be shorter? Will that be understood globally?”
Sometimes, before you know it, you find yourself evaluating the user assistance in a 5-star hotel, scrutinizing an airport sign or a restaurant menu, and hunting for the ambiguous, the ineffective, and the incomprehensible with the noble intent to make a user experience smoother.
In this article, I will share my experience of reading the icons in a menu at one of the restaurants.
After a long sightseeing tour, my friend and I wandered into a restaurant desperately hungry and eager to try the local cuisine. The restaurant menu started with a long list of icons that provided additional information about dishes (Image #1). Intentions of the menu authors were noble—to provide vital information for people with allergies or food preferences—but the result was ineffective. Why? Because the authors chose the icons that were not globally recognized. In none of the countries, gluten-free dishes are denoted by a square. Instead, the authors should have opted for a crossed wheatear .
When I flipped the menu further, I realized that I didn’t remember what diamonds, squares, and other geometrical icons meant (Image #2). People don’t usually memorize things that are not associated in their minds. Especially, if there are way too many of them.
Eventually, deciding on the meal turned out to be as easy as decrypting hieroglyphs, with my friend constantly going back to the list of explanations to verify the meaning of squares, triangles, and crescents. So, we, as users of the menu, ended up decrypting the menu icons and literally starving :D.
Positive user experience
I wondered how Information Developers would improve the menu and this situation. They would definitely simplify descriptions and substitute geometrical figures with well-associated and globally recognized icons:
Menu descriptions would be short, concise, and to the point. Actually, menus with good visuals do exist. For example, this menu (Image #3) provides a short list of icons with simple explanations. When users read the menu further, they see a few easily recognized icons that accompany the description of the dish.
This funny experience shows us how important a good user assistance is. When working with visuals, especially choosing icons to explain the text, keep in mind the following pieces of advice:
- Choose visuals that are well recognized by users of different locales.
- Support your text only with a few icons at a time (not more than 2-3).
- Ask your friends to interpret your visuals. Make adjustments if needed.