HT Design Studio
Human Technology. We improve the way people interact with websites, apps, and digital products.


We write about how you can ensure your customers have the best user experience possible using your website or digital product.

You Learned “Bad UX” From Your Cable Provider

Even though you might not be able to define what constitutes a bad user experience, you know it when you see it. You’ve encountered “bad ux” with services and devices you use everyday—like your cable box. Because of the limited choices consumers have in choosing a cable provider, it’s not surprising that the entire user experience centered around the hardware and software used to access cable TV channels is absolutely terrible. (This, thankfully, is starting to change with the ability to watch shows online—cable companies now have competition).

Here are issues you can avoid (or fix) based on the lessons learned from your cable provider:

1. An unreliable system.

How they do it
When you ask the system to perform a task (for example, pull up the tv guide) it is either painfully slow or fails to work entirely.

How you can do better
While this may seem like a no-brainer, your system should be stable enough to function consistently for your user no matter what task they want to perform. This means a thorough QA (on many browsers and devices) to eliminate bugs, fast load times, and clear, actionable messaging when something does go wrong (i.e., no “An unknown error has occurred” messages). This isn’t just a technical issue—it’s a user experience issue.

2. Failure to understand how users use the system in the “real world.”

How they do it
Cable on-demand functionality fails to deliver on how people actually use the feature—to binge-watch favorite shows or to encounter new shows to potentially binge-watch. After finding and watching your favorite tv show, you’re navigated back to the original on-demand portal. If you need to catch up on a few shows in a series, you have to navigate back to the channel and find the series again (without a visual prompt indicating what you’ve already seen). While the added steps don’t seem to amount to much, coupled with the unreliable system, this takes considerable time if you’re watching more than one show in a series. Serendipitously finding new shows to watch is also difficult, as there is no “you may also like” feature. Contrast this with Netflix, which not only provides an intuitive navigation that allows you to watch items in a series with ease, it also gives you recommendations of shows you might like based on what you’ve previously watched.

How you can do better
User research and usability testing are the best ways to ensure your website or product are meeting user needs and behaviors. Adapting your system/interface to fit your users’ mental model is preferable to forcing your users to comprehend a way of doing things that doesn’t make sense to them. Go a step further by offering your users recommendations based on their behavior, the behavior of users similar to them, or using customer data you already have.


3. Terrible customer service.

How they do it
Messages like “This service is currently unavailable. Try again later.” are not only unhelpful, they’re likely going to result in a barrage of customer service calls. Those service calls inevitably result in the cable provider “restarting” your cable box, with little indication of what might have gone wrong or how you might prevent it from happening again.

How you can do better
Prevent customer service calls (or emails) in the first place. Messages that help users recover from confusing situations can mean the difference between a brief moment of confusion and an hour long service call. For example, your website can provide recommendations when a user misspells a search term or ask a user to confirm before performing a critical task, like deleting a document. Your FAQ should be clearly written, searchable, categorized, and updated regularly. Should users need to call or email you, their experience needs to be documented, categorized with similar issues, and shared with designers and developers so they can propose solutions to the problems.

You’re not the cable company. You have many competitors and those competitors are focused on creating a great user experience for their customers. You can do better. Your customers expect it.