When was the last time you had an amazing experience at a US Post Office? Mine was just a couple of weeks ago, mailing packages for the holidays and loving the after-hours ease of posting packages via the automated kiosks! I was pleasantly surprised at how many principles of good design the USPS nailed with these tools.

  1. Everything you need is right there. Not sure how much your package weighs? No problem – put it on the scale. Not sure the dimensions qualify? No problem – there’s a built-in ruler. Need extra envelopes, boxes, or labels? Not to worry – they’re stocked in a rack nearby (even after hours). They really thought through the typical use case and considered how to make the entire process wrinkle-free. In other words, they nailed the “principle of user profiling.”
  2. The options on each screen make sense. Each menu has only a few choices, which are easy to choose between, and they are presented in a sensible order as you think about mailing a package. That is, they considered the “principle of feature exposure” as they designed the flow. Information screens are presented with pictures and giant “Yes” and “No” buttons at the bottom of the screen to help you answer necessary questions.
  3. Touch screen actually works. The buttons are big and easy to press (satisfying the more recent need to design with fat fingers in mind). Pressing the buttons yields satisfying audio and visual feedback to let you know that your input has been recorded.
    USPS Kiosk User Experience
    USPS Kiosk User Experience. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Shelly
  4. Judicious use of pictures and text. While some of the screens are a bit text-heavy, they provide pictures to help you figure out what shipping option to choose, and also help you determine if a label will fit on your box. The “principle of help” is on display here.
  5. Streamlined data entry. Data entry is limited to just a few selections and a 5-digit zip code entry, for which you’re only shown the numbers-pad. Brilliant! They used the “principle of context” to know that you only really need to enter 5 numbers and made that part easy.
  6. Undo. Throughout the process, it’s possible to go back, even from far along in the transaction, with no problems. (The “principle of safety” is on display here.) You don’t enter your payment until you’re satisfied that you’ve selected all of the proper options. And obviously the machine doesn’t spit out the postage ‘til you’ve paid!

These were the aspects that most impressed me, though the machine also scored well on response speed, and I liked that it used a bright (white) background to reduce glare and the noticeability of fingerprint smears.

It’s not perfect, of course. When I used it I found a $4 stamp all printed out and ready to go, but left in the dispenser tray. Though if that distracted holiday shipper happily wandered off without posting their package, I’m not sure what the machine could have done to help them.

What’s the most surprisingly good design you ran across during the holidays?