Making the right functional choices

Decisions about functionality have an impact on how a user interacts with a system and this has a knock-on effect on their perception of the brand too.

What is Functional Experience?

Functional Experience (FX) is the intersection in a Business Analysis | User Experience Venn diagram; where the decisions about functional rules have an impact on how a user interacts with the system and this has a knock-on effect on their perception of the brand too.


Why it matters?

After wireframes or UI design, we start to get into the weeds. Decisions need to be made about the functionality and this can have a massive impact on the user experience. In circumstance A, do we do X or Y… or maybe Z? You can tell sometimes when that decision has been made with either no thought for users or with a purely business-focused approach, even at the risk of annoying their customers.


A Few Examples

Business First

I was recently getting a coffee with a friend at a small coffee chain in the Midlands. He uses their loyalty scheme and had a free coffee to use, so he offered to get the first round in. Buy one, get one free – happy days! However, he had ordered a coffee that was a pound more than my standard flat white, yet it was my coffee that was deducted from the bill. He was annoyed at this and (politely) pushed back but was told that it always deducts the cheapest drink. He rightly pointed out that he could have used that free coffee to buy his Spanish latte (made with condensed milk), and then paid separately for my flat white, but in traditional British spirit, he accepted it and carried on.

flat-white-small - Caffe Society websiteThis got me thinking. Someone had made that decision. It was a conscious choice (by the Product Owner / BA / dev team) to implement that functional rule. It’s a fair decision, purely from a business perspective: it reduces the cost to the business, to do it that way. However, this is for a loyalty scheme; it is there to improve brand perception and to get their customers to use them over other rival coffee brands. A decision that was made without thought for how this would be perceived by the user was a mistake, as it has tarnished their brand in his (i.e. the customer’s) eyes. Those extra costs should have been wrapped into the marketing budget (where the loyalty scheme budget will no doubt have originated) and when the more expensive drink is deducted from the bill, prompt the server to mention this when giving the customer the amount to pay. How much better would that have been for the customer? Sometimes, you just need to think: What would John Lewis do?



Annoyance through indecision

An exSainsbury Self Check out - Oxford Mailample of where there seems to have been no thought given to the functional rules applied to a system, can be found in Sainsburys self-serve check out system. The whole ‘unknown item in the bagging area’ aside, this is a simple thing that annoys me every time I use it. When you go to pay, there are several payment options, cash, card, nectar points and possibly another. Picture the scene. Discussions being had about this point in the check-out journey, it’s a common decision to be made, what should the default be? Should it be cash or card or other? Someone might have asked – Do we have any stats for payment methods? Is there data that we can base this decision around? No, they went with ‘none selected’ as the default! This means that everyone using the system must click on the payment method that they want to use.

Imagined UX-101 states that: we should minimise the amount of clicks a user needs to make, but they have designed it so that everyone, rather than a subset must click on their preferred payment option. Now, I am assuming (subject for another blog), card payments are the largest percentage for what users select, so why not just make that the default? Make it easier for the majority, and those that want something else, they are the ones that have to carry out that additional step in the process.

I should possibly get out more, but it’s things like this that really annoy me!


An unnecessary step

Similar to the Sainsburys example above, I have found an example of not focusing on a classic UX consideration (not annoying your users), with the BBC’s iPlayer app for the Apple TV.

Like many streaming apps, it allows you to set up profiles so that a child watching Peppa Pig, doesn’t alter the algorithm for what is suggested to you. It’s a useful function, I like it. However, if there is only one of you that uses the app, you still have to select your profile every time you open up the app. WHY? When designing the user journeys, why did no one suggest – If the number of profiles =1, then don’t ask you to select a profile.

BBC iPlayer

Annouying view I get….

Next to my profile there are two add CTAs, so maybe they thought we have to show this profile selection step, as that is where you add new ones. This is lazy thinking, as I might never want to add a new one. If doing it this way is going to annoy users with a single profile, then why not have a think about how else it could be done…..for example:


  • If there are more than one profiles then show current profiles and the ‘add new’ call to actions
    • If only one profile, then skip this step.
    • Or at least allow me the option to not show next time?
  • Include the ability to add a profile in the settings section – this is a place that people would logically look.


Imagine my surprise to find that in the settings, there is a CTA to ‘Manage accounts’ that simply takes me to view shown above. This is ill-considered thinking. They must have identified my situation as a possible alternate flow to be considered but never bothered to set in place a better way to handle it, and as a person focused on the design of digital experiences, this really annoys me.


Key take away

When making these functional decisions, we must think about how those choices will impact the user, how it will impact their experience of your platform (and crucially), of your brand. Minimise the number of clicks, especially when it really isn’t necessary….don’t annoy your user.

This is why we endeavour to craft digital experiences that don’t get in the way of the user, we consider all of the potential user journeys and how this will impact the functionality. We aim to make that balance between the user and the business needs, it is this that informs the fine details, the decisions around the functional experience for the users. A happy user means that business objectives are more easily attained

Ben Laine-Toner
Digital Experience Lead