Why does UX matter? And why does it have an impact on our lives, literally.

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Let’s take a closer look at an example of VacMe, the COVID-19 vaccination registration system in Zurich, and see what we can learn from this.

2020 has been a long year. It turned our lives upside down, brought a lot of frustration and probably permanent changes. From the beginning of the pandemic at the end of 2019, we have been waiting for the day when something will be found to help us get our everyday freedoms back.

The beginning of 2021 brought hope. Vaccinations started. People began to plan and speak about returning to normal life. Eventually!

Planning a project such as vaccinating most of the country’s citizens is undoubtedly a big logistical challenge. One of the things that was crucial was dividing people into groups of higher and lower risk. COVID is not equal for everyone and for some it constituted a particularly big threat. Priority was given to people from such groups like for example healthcare workers, people over 60, people that cannot maintain social distance while at work, etc.

Such a system was also in force in Switzerland. I belonged to a group N, that means All other adults (people older than 18, younger than 50 and those without an increased risk of severe course of the illness), which was the largest group and the one that was vaccinated last. After many months of waiting, on May 7th, this day has finally come — registration opened for group N.

Unfortunately, the enrollment process was organized in a totally non-Swiss style. I mean, it was very poorly organized.

What was the registration process for vaccination for the largest group in Zurich?

Let’s take a look at the VacMe portal used to register for vaccination. I won’t cover the account registration process, because it could have been done earlier and it was a fairly standard procedure. So let’s get back to the process of obtaining an actual vaccination date.

1. First, I had to select the vaccination location

2. Once the location was chosen, the next step was to select the appointment time and date from the list of available dates, with the earliest possible selected as default…

3. With the first appointment selected, I had to select the second one…

And here comes the problem. Even when picking the dates as quickly as possible (basically without thinking), I couldn’t book them because they just kept on disappearing almost instantly.

Obviously, thousands of people were trying to book a vaccination slot in the meantime and a few seconds were enough for the available slots to be booked by someone else. So I had to try again. And the same again, and again, and again… While clicking, the next available date was slipping to the future and the whole process started to feel like an arcade game.

Finally, after countless attempts, I found an available date and was able to register for my vaccination.

Does it really have to be that difficult, stressful and annoying?

For many people COVID-19 vaccination was one of the most awaited events of 2021 — it gave them a sense of security and a promise to come back to normal life after the pandemic.

The importance of this event makes it even more disappointing that the Zurich vaccine registration system was so badly planned and implemented.

The process was the most annoying experience that you can imagine. Why? And what can we learn from this?

Don’t forget about user’s needs.
The creators of this flow apparently did not think about the real needs of people who want to sign up for a vaccine. The whole process starts with choosing an exact płace to get vaccinated and then trying to match the dates. Is this a good approach? It depends. For most people living in a larger city, it doesn’t matter where they are going to be vaccinated, if it’s still reachable within reasonable time.

Narrowing it down to one specific vaccination point is definitely not the best solution. Taking into account that Zurich is quite small (it takes 1h to get to the place on the other side of the city) and the network of vaccination points is dense, it would make sense to have a search engine based on the postal code or/and the radius which is acceptable for the user. The area could then include a few vaccination points and it would be possible to select from available dates of all of them. On top of that, the system should only show the dates, for which the second jab dates are still available and keep them reserved. This solution would correspond to the needs of many (most?) signing up for vaccination — get the date as early as possible, and also people for whom the date is the deciding factor.

Give users control over what happens.
The user had little control over the entire process, had to obey the rules, which resulted in choosing the vaccination date by trial and error method. Very bad experience, especially in the context of such an important matter.

It also created an unnecessary load on the system when thousands of people were basically fighting for the first available date.

Remember about the circumstances in which the user will go through the process.
Not every case is the same, even if the interaction is similar. The context in which users deal with our product is crucial. The registration flow would have made more sense if it did not involve several hundred thousands users all at once, competing to fix a date.

If we foresee that such a situation may occur, it is our responsibility to take this fact into account and make the multi-user experience smooth. For example, certain airlines or concert organizers book the ticket in your cart for a few minutes before you confirm the transaction.

In addition to the sign up process, we should think of the registration process as a whole. And it starts much earlier than at the moment when the vaccination location is chosen. In the case of a VacMe process, it wasn’t publicly announced when the registration of my group would actually open.

It turned out that it went live in the early morning of May 7th, but the official notification about it appeared a few hours later. However, it spread through word of mouth among a certain group of people (we could say that they were privileged ones). At the time of the official notification most of the dates for the coming month, and maybe even two, were already booked. This unfair segregation of users shouldn’t happen, particularly when it’s about vaccinations.

Why does UX matter? And why does it have an impact on our lives, literally. was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.