Tax Forms Remind Us Of Our Responsibility To Build Better

Posted By Debbie on April 15, 2016

Categories: UX/UI

Tags: blame, blame the user, design, forms

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.