user experience · venting · women

User Centred Design and Leg Waxing – An Instructional Analogy


I went to a new waxing place on Saturday, and I’m never going back there again. Ever.

Even though they’re half the price of my old salon. There is nothing that would entice me back there again.

I had my legs and eyebrows waxed. I’ve been thinking about the importance of user centred design ever since.

Let me start by saying that I emerged unharmed (there are pots of hot wax involved, personal safety shouldn’t necessarily be assumed!). And I emerged more aware of the power of user experience for branding, loyalty, word of mouth and, ultimately – revenue.

So, what happened, and what on earth does a leg wax have to do with user experience online?

1. First impressions count

I arrived right on time. The door said push. I tried really hard. You really needed to get your back into it. Just behind the door there were about 5 girls crowded around a desk. They obviously worked there. They didn’t turn around.

I made it through the door. The desk was jammed in right behind the door. Still none of the 5 girls turn to greet me. Eventually I catch one of their eyes and I tell her I have a 10am appointment and give her my name. ‘Take a seat’ she says.

Sure. But where? The layout of this place is pretty extreme. I’m not much with measurements but I’d say we’re looking at about a 5 x 5 metre square shape with what looks to be about 4 or 5 cubicles jammed into it. There’s just enough space for a tiny desk, and then, behind the entrance, a few tiny stools to perch on.

I perched. I waited. I felt bloody uncomfortable.

I was less than a minute into this experience and already I knew I didn’t want to come back.

Same same when designing online experience. Recent research showed that people are judging our work in a fraction of a second. It also shows that if people make a positive impression at first, a ‘halo effect’ extends to other components of the site, for example, the content.

Unfortunately, in my case, the negative halo effect of the bad first impression proved accurate…

2. Treat me nice

It didn’t take long before one of the girls gestured for me to enter one of the cubicles. Things weren’t on the improve. It was drab and a little dark and the bed had a plastic sheet on it… I remembered how nice and bright it was in my old salon, and the fresh white cotton sheets they used. I hoped this wasn’t going to be as bad as I thought it would be.

It was.

Enter the waxer. She wasn’t wearing a uniform. She confirmed the order ‘half leg and eyebrow, right?’

Right. Then down to business.

Now, I don’t want to be best friends with my waxer… I think that’s a little weird. But I do expect her to do some small talk: ask me how I am, ask about my weekend plans. Little things.

She didn’t even ask about the important things like – is this wax too hot?

Yes, it was. And do you have to go to a special school to learn how to rip out hairs so it hurts extra bad? She had that skill in spades.

It was pretty clear to me that I was nothing more than her ’10am’ and that she wanted me out the door as quickly as possible so that she could get back to the conversation going on at the desk with her colleagues. The conversation that I’d obviously interrupted.

This girl clearly had no passion for her profession. And she had no interest in me.

I was just a customer, an appointment, a ‘user’, ‘eyeballs’.

This gave me some guilt pangs. As much as I hate the term ‘user’ and the depersonalisation that it implies, I’m use the term all the time. I think I’ve got to stop that.

We need to remember that we’re designing for human beings. Human beings that *like* pleasant experiences. Who prefer pleasant experiences over unpleasant experiences. And who will adjust their behaviour in order to gain pleasure and avoid pain.

We need to design pleasure for humans.

And make sure, always make sure that we’re not designing for our business, or what’s easiest to program, or our functional thought process.

It doesn’t take that much more effort to make sure you’re designing something that gives pleasure to its users. But the effect on your business could be enormous.

Take that time.

3. Trust

The overwhelming feeling that I had whilst I was having my hairs ripped out was one of distrust. This is a particularly bad emotion to feel when you’re about to set that person loose on your eyebrows (the girls will understand).

Why did I not trust this hair-ripper?

  1. She wasn’t interested in ensuring a good outcome for me. Through her inattention, she’d demonstrated how unimportant I was to her. She couldn’t care less how I looked when I walked out of her salon.
  2. She didn’t seem to be very good at her work. The wax was too hot. The ripping hurt too much. I don’t think she really knew what she was doing. Eyebrow waxing is an art… she was no artisan.
  3. Quality was generally not a concern in that establishment. Everything I’d come across so far told me that doing a good job ensuring great quality was not a high priority here. Gossiping at the desk was a priority. And getting lots of bodies through the door as quickly as possible.

There is lots of evidence to suggest that user experience & HCI is very important in generating trust in online systems. (Look out, some of those links are PDFs)

Aside from investing in developing a high quality, highly usable user experience, we should be thinking about what we can do to engender trust. This runs the full gamut from IA, to Interface Design, Visual Design & Branding, to System Performance, to Content, to QA. Ugly looking, poorly designed, difficult to use, slow to respond systems with typos and things that don’t work don’t make me trust.

Quality makes me trust.

We need to make sure that we’re ensuring a high quality user experience so they they love us and trust us.


Perhaps it was the combination of pain and dissatisfaction that made me combine my work with my leg wax. In terms of user experience design, nothing I’m saying here is new. But its worth repeating over and over again… its worth investing in good user experience.

Do this and you can ensure that your users repeat their good experience themselves and promote you to their friends and colleagues. Don’t do it, and they’ll go out of their way to avoid you, and to make sure everyone they know does likewise.

Shout Out:

Appropriately, a shout out to the guys & gals at the The Beauty Room. They were just around the corner from where I used to work and since I moved work, they’re pretty inconvenient for me to get to now. Be assured, that’s exactly where I’ll be going next time. And, if you’re ever looking for somewhere to get some waxing done in Sydney, so should you :)

I’m not naming the evil waxing business (because I don’t want to promote them and because litigation shy), but if you’re looking for a wax in Bondi Junction, drop me a line before you make a booking and I’ll happily clue you in.

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7 thoughts on “User Centred Design and Leg Waxing – An Instructional Analogy

  1. I have worked in Web World, but not for a while – I now work with that ancient form, the book. But a lot of what you have said applies as much to books as websites – your comments about the ‘user experience’ (or ‘human being experience’) are just as pertinent to how books are put together as they are for websites. ‘First impressions counts’ pretty much came from books (because people really do judge a book by its cover); ‘treat me nice’ means, broadly, don’t patronise your reader, particularly in the blurb, which is the gateway to their experience of reading the book; and ‘trust’ is fundamental to whether an author wins over a reader or not – and involves, first, trust between the author and their publishing house (publisher, editor, designer, typesetter, publicist, marketer etc.) so that the energy of trust, for lack of a better expression, is somehow transmitted to the reader, whom the author invites to trust him or her via the language they use in the first few pages of the book (and, probably, in their interviews and TV/radio appearances). In short: whenever human beings interact with a content-driven medium, all of these principles can apply.

  2. Wow – talk about going the extra mile for something to blog about. Even given that I’m not heavitly into waxing, I think I would have turned and run BEFORE the too-hot wax made an appearance!

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