We've got to do better

It's 2012 and setting up online accounts for things like credit cards, bank accounts and paying bills is still far too difficult. I spent last night helping my dad get set up with online accounts, and even for an average internet user like him, the process was horrific.

I was appauled at the number of ways web designers and developers continually make simple online tasks much harder than they should be.

It seems that few designers, developers and project managers of large web applications actually factor in how people actually use the internet.

Here are a few of the gaffes I discovered last night.

    Password Requirements

    Each site had different password requirements. Some sites required a special character like # or !, but other sites refused to accept such characters. Usually it isn't without trial and error that you realize this.

    (I've written ranted about password requirements before. I'm sure we're all in agreement that they should largely be abolished.)

    "Cancel Registration" Button? Seriously?

    Edison's registration form provided a "Cancel Registration" button their signup form, with equal size and weight as the "Submit Registration" button. I thought we all agreed this was a bad idea back in the days of the now-largely erradicated "Reset Form" button.

    Javascript Validation Gone Bad

    Another form didn't work with Chrome's autofill feature. It required the user to enter a 10-digit phone number (across three fields, of course). At the end of typing the last group of numbers, a second set of inputs appeared, requiring the user to re-enter the phone number to confirm accuracy.

    But because my dad used Chrome's auto-fill feature to enter the whole phone number automatically, it failed to trigger the javascript to show the second set of fields. This resulted in an error message telling him, "You forgot to enter a phone number" even though he already had.

    Making Answers to Challenge Questions Case-Sensitive

    This is always a bad idea. You might be surprised at how many people type things into fields in lowercase. But if you're asked to re-enter that info later (especially a proper noun)? You might capitalize it.

    "Enter Your Name as it Appears"

    Asking for bank account info, one form said to "Enter your name as it appears on your check." The name on my dad's check had his middle initial listed, followed by a period. He submitted the form and received an error message telling him periods weren't allowed.

    "If you created an account before August 18, 2005..."

    Do I even need to explain why this shouldn't even be on a REGISTER page?

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    Seriously, do we not even test what we build?

      My point: We've got to stop doing this. Even in 2012, we are still making web applications that still make basic tasks pretty painful. Quite frankly, it's embarassing.

      We've got to stop building for ourselves.

      As designers and developers, we sometimes get stuck in this false assumption that everyone uses the internet the same way we do. But we're in the minority.

      The next time you're building a form or creating a flow for a signup process, think through some of the issues that might come up as a result of your design.

      Watch a few people use your app. You'll be surprised at some of the things you'll see when looking through someone else's eyes.

      And the biggest point: Don't be lazy. That quick and dirty javascript validation you wrote? More people are going to be negatively affected by it than you think. Don't want to take the time to write helpers for each input field? A little clarification might save users a lot of headache.

      If you're interested in the topic of user experience and making things simple and easy for users, you should check out the book Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug. It's a great introduction into avoiding a lot of basic usability problems that people still encounter every day.

        The worst mistake you can make as a user experience designer

        There is nothing worse than navigating your mouse to click a link, only to find out the link was actually a dropdown menu. But it's too late, because you already clicked the link, so you're already being taken to a new page.


        The problem? There is no indication this is a dropdown menu. It just looks like a link to a regular page.

        So how should it work? If it's a hoverable area, the area shouldn't be clickable because you don't want to take the user to a different page if they click it. I wish more UX designers understood this basic concept. I cannot begin to explain the spout of frustration I just dealt with internally as I just ran into this on Verizon's website.

        Starbucks and AT&T need to examine the user experience for their wifi signup process

        I've seen it happen too many times and it's starting to get annoying. Time after time, a normal internet user will enter Starbucks with their laptop with the presumption that they can get free wifi at the coffee behemoth. Yes, it's true, they can, but AT&T makes you jump through hoops to get it set up. Maybe it's an attempt to get users to fail and end up paying for wifi, but more often than not, they end up getting frustrated with not being able to get online and then they leave. It's bad for Starbucks and it's bad for AT&T. Here's what AT&T and Starbucks needs to fix:
        1. Tell people with print advertising that they can get online via the "attwifi" network. Too many times, I've had to help people find the right network to connect to. They don't associate AT&T with Starbucks, and quite frankly, they shouldn't have to. Customers should see signs or placards posted around the store on how to get online. I think there are pamphlets somewhere about this, but customers don't know where to look to find them.
        2. Better explain the process about needing to register a Starbucks card for $5 or more to be eligible for free wifi. Usually, baristas will know about this and know to explain this to the customer, but sometimes they don't. If the process were streamlined enough, this wouldn't even be an issue.
        3. Make the Sign Up for Free Wifi at Starbucks link more visible. Once a user tries to visit a website and gets redirected to AT&T's login page, they are bombarded with a cluttered webpage, and the link to sign up for the free wifi is nearly invisible. This is probably intentional on AT&T's part to make users pay for wifi, but if a user knows they can get free wifi in Starbucks, they probably aren't going to ever pay for it.
        4. Clean up the signup process. Make the default choice for getting a Starbucks account "Register" rather than "Login with existing account." I continually see users who keep submitting the registration form but never even see the radio buttons to Register instead of Login. Hello, they've never registered for wifi. Chances are, they've never registered for Starbucks acccount.
        5. USER TEST THE PROCESS!! I doubt AT&T ever tried this signup process on real users once they finished building it. The process is even confusing to me, and I have more experience with the internet than the average person. User testing is the most important process to find out how users use your site, because regardless of how easy the designer thinks the process is, you can never know how real people will react until they can try it out.
        These are some no-brainers, and it's disappointing that AT&T hasn't touched this process or made any visible changes since they initially got the Starbucks contract a couple years ago. And Starbucks isn't off the hook either. They should be proactive in enhancing this process, because they should care about customer retention in their stores. Ease and simplicity is key to engaging with consumers today, and unfortunately at this point, I see far too many people leaving Starbucks disappointed because the process to get online in Starbucks is just too complicated for the average person.