The Effect of Usability on Employment Rates

tags: unemployment, ux

I’m wondering about much usability and HCI will affect automation and job losses. I’ve been thinking that a lot of transactions cannot be automated simply because they’re too complex, and developing an automated interface to manage them would be too hard.

Some transactions are simple: paying for parking, or withdrawing money at an ATM, These transactions have very few variables or alternate paths, so dialing them down to an automated interface is simple. Jobs are undeniably lost when this happens (the Sioux Falls Airport has slowly whittled down parking booth cashiers from three to just one – the rest of the lanes are now automated kiosks).

Other transactions are not so simple. Some are complex enough that the role of a human is indispensable to them.

My wife and I went to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago about a month ago. We needed tickets, and we also need to buy multiple “sub-tickets” to various exhibits and schedule the times we wanted to go on those “mini-tours.” So, the transaction of us buying tickets was somewhat complex.

The lines to the human ticket sellers were long, so with some trepidation, I decided to try one of the kiosks (pictured). I was nervous and half-assumed this was going to be a confusing mess.

But, the experience was fantastic, The interface was elegant and usable, and it made the complex process of buying multiple tickets, sub-tickets, and tour scheduling easy and graceful. In short, it took a complex transaction, and made it simple enough that it didn’t need a human anymore.

To be perfectly clear: I chalk up the loss of a human job here (the cashier) purely to the fact that someone was able to design an interface simple enough to handle this transaction. If this interface wasn’t this usable, a human would need to be employed to manage the process and serve as a middle man to simplify the transaction.

Usability is great, but as usability increases and the complex becomes simple, humans will get displaced more often.

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