A Portfolio and blog for Mustafa Kurtuldu

User-fudged experiences

How to design for weird user behavior

User Fudged Experiences are when users do something unexpected with our products or service, usually in a hacky way. Below are a series of examples where users improvised these experiences for various companies.

Story 1: McDonald’s Milkshakes

The Golden Arches were trying to increase the sale of their milkshakes and interviewed users to find the perfect recipe. The outcome was more richer shakes, but sadly sales remained the same.

They then hired a consultant, Clay Christensen, find a solution. Christensen’s approach was to sit in a restaurant, 18 hours a day watching customers come and go. What he discovered was that half of the shakes were sold before 8:30am by lone customers.

Christensen approached some of these customers and asked why they were buying milkshakes at 6:30 am. After all this seems like a Fudged Experience.

The answer was simple, they had a long commute to work, and needed a quick filling breakfast that would keep them awake. They were not immediately hungry but knew they would be later, so they would slowly drink the shake on their way to work.

Once McDonald’s’ realized this hacky behaviour, they pivoted the problem, moved the milkshakes from behind the counter to the front to help customers get in and out quicker and then focused on creating breakfast drinks.

When McDonald’s’ understood that what their customers were trying to do, they increased sales by 7x.

Story 2: Passwords

Users are taught to create overly complicated passwords that they can’t remember. A now-famous cartoon from XKCD demonstrated a way to create genuinely secure and that were rememberable passwords. Sadly websites haven’t caught up.

xkcd Illustration
Illustration: xkcd.com/936/

What this has meant is users of shared devices, or shared passwords such as WIFI, will write them down in a visible place so that everyone can see them. This completely Fudged Experience defeats the whole point that passwords are meant to be secret. Of course, we could say that ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ Well, take a look at these images that were broadcast live, passwords in full view.

Sky News, Super Bowl Broadcast and TV5Monde
Sky News, Super Bowl Broadcast and TV5Monde

Because the experience was Fudged, and passwords complexity not solved, a gaping hole is left in the above security. If only someone had thought of a better way to have shared access that was secure.

Story 3: Web Email services

Around 2007, it was noticed that users were adding large attachments to an email services and then saving them in their drafts folder or just sending them to themselves. The reason for this Fudged Experience was users wanted to carry their digital files without the need of carrying lots of USB keys.

Suddenly Dropbox appeared, it was like magic. The idea that your device was no longer a singular thing, and your files traveled and synced perfectly was an unbelievable experience.

Story 4: Ikea phone charging

Ikea is great at this. They designed phone charging devices that would fit into their furniture as they understand people’s phone charging habits. It’s a pain point charging a phone, and leaving it overnight, is quite hacky and a waste of electricity.

They discovered that most people place their devices on a dresser, small cupboard, or desk, around the corners so that it is within reaching distance. This lead to the phone charging pads Ikea implemented in their furniture.

Watching the user

We can design tools to do a specific task, but it is not until it is in the hands of users after some time do we see what they are trying to do.

Techniques discovery can include but not limited to;

  1. Ethnographical studies: Watching people in their natural spaces, depending on what you are designing. The goal here is to be invisible. This is what Clayton did with Mc Donalds.
  2. Contextual interviews: Researchers will interact with users while observing them going about their normal activities.
  3. Diary studies: Get a user to write down their activities in the form of a diary.

It is worth noting that doing this properly can take time. But designing a solid product can not be rushed. More details on ethnographical research can be found here.

If you want to understand your users you must watch what they are doing, see the patterns and behaviors so that you do not try to disrupt them, but design around them. In this process of observation you will also discover their User Fudged Experiences, and finally figure out what you as a designer are supposed to do.


This article is for a new youtube series called “Designer Vs Developer”, which you can see here on our Youtube Chrome Channel. You can also listen to a longer version of the conversation by downloading or subscribing to our podcast.
First appeared in Creative Review.