In honor of tax day, here are some thoughts about UX in the paper world. From tax forms to voting, we have the opportunity to present a good user experience… or otherwise.
The discipline of UX looks at a few interesting things that may surprise those unfamiliar with UX. We look at how to make sure meaningful information is transmitted to the user. We look at how to design something that makes learning and understanding easier.
We’ve all seen the opposite. Take tax forms. They are not easy to fill out on your own. Whether a TurboTax robot helps you or a human accountant, it’s an area where it’s hard to know everything. People with less access to the internet or human help are at a disadvantage. Who do they ask for tax help when filling out these forms when the instructions don’t make sense to them?
That’s a UX issue. Someone could make tax forms easier. TurboTax did but they charge for it. Tax forms could be designed to be easier.
And if a tax form and its instructions aren’t clear or easy, which means someone might need human help or a pile of Googling to understand something, whose fault is that? Shouldn’t we blame the tax forms for failing the human rather than blaming the human for not trying harder to learn info the tax forms excluded?
Could we say that that’s too bad? That if you have difficulty with tax forms, you must not care to have done more research and get yourself educated on tax matters? Could we say that if you didn’t get a refund you were owed or you got audited because of an honest mistake that that’s too bad and it’s your responsibility to know everything about the system?
You could, but that wouldn’t be very UX of you. 🙂
A good UX person knows the likely habits and thought processes of the target users. So we KNOW people don’t like to fill out tax forms. We know they’re not easy to understand. We know that Googling for answers sometimes doesn’t help. A UX person would design something that answers itself, keeps you from making errors, and truly helps you with errors rather than just telling them they are there.
If a UX person designed tax forms, we’d design them to be clear, easy, and hard to make a mistake on. Because we want all processes to work like that.
Many years ago, I heard eBay at a variety of events get pooped on for how bad their search feature was. And it was (probably still is). Their answer each and every time was that the user is searching incorrectly. That’s convenient but if so many people are getting the same thing wrong, a UX person would say it needs to be rethought, redesigned, and rebuilt.
That’s the tip of a UX iceberg. But in my industry, if people aren’t understanding things, we blame the method aimed at informing them or we blame the design. We don’t blame the user for not having done more research.
I don’t want to enter my email address twice. You’re trying to save me from typing my own email address incorrectly? Well I just copied and pasted it. That’s like calling the wrong number, finding out it’s the wrong number, and then hitting redial on the phone.
If you’re going to allow copy and paste from one field to another, you may not save a user from a mistake.
Are you finding that a significant number of users enter their email addresses incorrectly? Then you have a problem to solve. If you are not finding that you have that problem, perhaps you don’t need to inconvenience 99% of users who will type their email address correctly.
Don’t Make More Work For Users
You want my phone number. You want a second phone number in case I want to enter home and work or home and mobile. OK I get that.
These fields are red because I was given an error message saying I didn’t fill out all of the mandatory fields. Alternate Phone is also mandatory.
Asking someone to re-enter the identical number again if they have no second number may fill up your database the way you want, but it isn’t a good user experience. Why not code the page so that if that’s left blank, your system puts the first phone number in both slots in the database. Why error a user out if you don’t have to?
Best Buy emailed me that printer ink was on sale. OK, I’ll bite. The discount no-name ink I bought last time didn’t work very well. I might return to name brand ink. Let’s see it!
Hey, there’s something missing. Where are the prices? How can I decide to buy something if I don’t know what it costs?
OK, I’ll bite again! I clicked add to cart, and this message came up.
Ohhhh, you are trying to circumvent MAP aka “minimum advertised pricing.” You are not allowed to advertise the ink as cheaply as you’re actually going to sell it.
If you’re not adding me to your mailing list (and it says you’re not… and I’m already on your mailing list anyway), then why does collecting this info then allow you to show me this wildly discounted price?
Wouldn’t this price be on display if I walk into your store? Or would you hide the price until I told you my name and email address?
Oh. I guess that’s a good price? Thanks for making me click extra times and fill out a form to tell me a price that’s probably on public display in the store.
Once upon a time, when you built a questionnaire or form, you included every possible question and field, even if the answer isn’t needed or applicable. Nowadays, we can do better.
Some sites’ ideas of doing better is greying out fields they think you don’t need. For example, in an eCommerce checkout, you might hit a page with a set of “shipping address” fields and a set of “billing address” fields. If you check a box that they are the same, some sites will grey out one set so you don’t have to fill both out.
The better solution is progressive disclosure.
Progressive disclosure is where you only show the necessary fields or questions as the behavior of the user indicates. For example, if the user checks the checkbox for shipping and billing addresses being the same, you might choose to hide the billing address set of fields and labels.
Progressive disclosure means that as the user moves through the form or questionnaire, the form acts “smart,” only revealing relevant fields and hiding ones that are not relevant.
Another good example of this can be found on websites where you fill out information to get a quote on life insurance. Some of those forms might ask if you have insurance now with radio buttons for yes or no. The next field is “How much insurance do you currently have?” This field does not have to be shown until the user answers “yes” to having insurance. The field would be hidden if the user chose yes but then changed to no.
That’s progressive disclosure. As the user progresses through the experience, only what is needed is disclosed. It means the end of using text like, “if yes, answer this question,” or “if no, skip to question 3.” We don’t need to make web or app forms look like paper forms.
Here’s what it looks like when you don’t do it.
Ah, filling out job applications online…
Our user has never been employed here and she has no relatives employed by this organization. This form could have looked shorter, neater, less cluttered, and like less work without the unnecessary presence of the follow-up questions.
If you have been using six names (the one you entered already in the job form plus five more) in the last seven years, looking for a job may not be your biggest problem. Is it even legal to do that? I guess, but WOW.
And does this company imagine that their target audience changes their names annually? Or is this a leftover, lazy, “just make it look like our paper form” adventure?
Although I’ve been married and divorced, I’ve had the same name my whole life. When I get married again, I will keep my current name. I don’t need ANY of these fields. I have no previous name. This is a lot of space that could have been saved by progressive disclosure.
“Have you ever had a previous name?” yes/no radio buttons
If no, then move on to the next question. If yes, then show one row of the previous name interface. Add a button or link that says something like, “Add another previous name.” That way, people only see the number or rows that they need.
Time to catch up with technology.
If your company’s or client’s web forms still look like the way paper forms are designed, it’s time to upgrade and update. Use progressive disclosure to only show what it needed when it’s needed. Hide what might not be needed by default. Disclose it as people move through and form logic mandates the need for the follow up question or additional information.
There is always something ironic about filling out a job application where the UX is so bad I almost want to just say “forget it” and not apply for the job.
Here are some of the ways in which these summon The Four Horsemen of Bad UX.
One application first asked me my “ethnicity,” which the choices being “Hispanic or Latino” or “Not Hispanic or Latino.” The next drop down asked my “race,” which listed “White” and other supposed “races.”
Why not just have one drop down that asks race or ethnicity? If someone picks Latino, send that to your other field. If someone picks anything else, send “Not Hispanic Or Latino” to that field.
Another application asked for my full address (non-optional) and then had a dropdown called “Region.” It wasn’t marked as required but turned out to be required. When I clicked it, it was a list of towns. I picked my town again even though I had typed it in. Why.
Enter In Everything From Your Resume
Some applications grab your resume and might also connect to your LinkedIn. You now know just about everything about my work history that I make public.
So why should I then see step 2 of 4, a page asking me non-optionally to enter in my last 3 jobs… titles, companies, start and end dates? Can’t you get that from LinkedIn and/or my resume? Why make me type it again?
Bad Resume Scraping
Some job applications scrape my resume and try to put info into their fields. I appreciate the effort, but if you’re putting my phone number as my city, this isn’t going so well.
More importantly, do you really need my full street address for me to apply for this job? I promise I am local and will show up.
One application imported my resume, scraped it, and then showed an awful jumbled mess of text in a textarea field. I almost added some sort of apology to my cover letter about how awfully the system brought in my resume, but decided to have faith. After I submitted the application, the “thank you” screen actually had a sentence saying that I shouldn’t worry; the formatting of my resume would be retained.
How about saying that on the previous page where it looks like a dog vomited it!
Create An Account
Some internal job application systems as well as some third party systems require you to “create an account.” You can’t apply for the job unless you give some extra information, would you like to be emailed when there are more jobs like this, can we email you about other things, tell us what you were making at your last 3 jobs, and create a password. Now go check your email to confirm your email and this account.
That should be optional. I have applied for a lot of jobs and have never logged back in to any of these. Since it doesn’t seem necessary, how about making my experience faster and easier?
Can You Just Correct That For Me Please?
I had one application ask for my LinkedIn full URL. In my haste, I typed http://linkedin/in/debbielevitt. When I went to submit the page, it threw me an error message saying there should be a “.com” after linkedin. Yeah, you’re right. How about you just add that for me and accept my form?
Don’t like the format of my phone number? Make it whatever you want.
Yes, my email really is @pty.pe. I actually got an error message saying it didn’t look like a valid email and am I SURE that’s my email. Yes, it is. Get with ccTLDs that have been around forever.
Another application asked for my LinkedIn URL and then the field maxed out at about 25 characters. Well, my URL doesn’t fit. What do I put in? I just put in debbielevitt and hoped someone would know why I typed that.
One thing I find interesting is that I can apply to a job online and never hear from that company again other than the form “thanks for applying” email I get immediately afterwards. Some do send form emails later saying they didn’t choose me.
But how about the companies who send nothing? I’m applying via some system. Can’t the system shoot me a quick rejection so I’m not wondering for weeks what’s going on? I’d imagine the hiring manager or HR person has something they can quickly do to tell the system they don’t want me. Respond, if you please.
Maybe a company in the HR or recruiting industry will hire me. 🙂
Last month, I visited France and the UK. There are times when I wanted to get online. Wi-Fi networks were marked as free. Here’s what greeted you when you chose free wifi.
Or this one.
Sure, that’s a quick one to fill out. Put in some fake info, they don’t confirm it, and you’re online.
How about this one? It was so big I needed multiple screen shots to capture it (on a phablet).
Companies Need To Learn This Doesn’t Work
If I can fill this out with totally fake information and you don’t confirm the info or my email, then what do you really have? A database full of “leads” with fake information? That got you nothing.
Creating obstacles to something isn’t a good user experience. Calling Wi-Fi free but then trying to get people to OK being mailed and called doesn’t feel free. If you’re not making me pay or sign up for an account, then just let me online without the questionnaire.
I filled out a web form to find out if a time share place had better rates on a possible hotel stay than the hotel is offering for those dates. I sent the form in. I quickly got this back:
Oh! You decided to have a web form sent to an email address you don’t use anymore, and you want ME to take some extra steps to contact you. I wonder who at that company had that great idea. Nicole and Maddie? Their hosting company? Their web guy or gal? Who decided this?
These people are new to me. I don’t feel tied to them at all. So it’s easy for me to give up and disconnect completely. Additionally, I had no idea what their email address was. Abandoning an email account or changing your email address should be invisible to the user. I shouldn’t have any idea that anything has changed, especially on my first interaction with you.
Because what should really happen is both of the following things:
- Forward that old Yahoo or Hotmail email to your new email so you don’t miss emails. Why run the risk that you’re missing emails, and why assume that every person who contacts you will take the time to try contacting you again?
- Have your web guy or gal update your online form so that it sends to the correct email address that you actually pick up. Don’t show me how lazy your business is that you couldn’t spend $20 having a high school student change 50 characters of HTML so this form goes to the right email.
Download this free whitepaper. It’s never really free, is it. They always want your name and email so they can add you to a mailing list. Sometimes they’re honest about adding you to a mailing list, and sometimes it’s a surprise you get later.
That also seems to assume that wanting to read your whitepaper goes with interest in you or your company. Those may not go together. Sometimes I’m just doing research and your whitepaper looks relevant. I don’t want to be added to a mailing list.
If the whitepaper or report is truly free, let me have it.
I went to read a whitepaper on UX by what seemed to be an expert. But this was the page I was shown. I’ve blurred out names, companies, and other info since I’m not looking to specifically call this person out. But holy cats, this is a UX whitepaper, you are a UX expert, and you’ve decided that people will fill out your form to get the whitepaper.
I filled out the form. Click to enlarge.
The title says it all. Get a UX consultant! Click to enlarge!
What have I just done here?
I filled out a form. I submitted it. The form appeared to clear itself, and below the fold was a message that the form was sent. That message shouldn’t go below the fold. And why clear the form? Do you imagine that I immediately have another question I need to ask, and I’ll need a blank form?