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Poor user interface – learn from their mistakes!

June 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Just went through a website registration process where I’m left uncertain if the registration succeeded or not.  A look under the covers leads me to believe it did complete successfully.  I will explain further but note that I’m not here to expose the source but to provide education for developers so we get more intuitive user interfaces with proper visual clues on what went through and what didn’t!!  The term affordance has evolved to mean “easy discoverability of possible actions”.  And false affordance “leads to mistakes and misunderstandings”.  I think they apply in this case.

I filled out a form, clicked submit, then a pop-up appeared.  Correction: a pop-up tried to appear.  I must enable that in my browser.  The pop-up appeared, I entered the CAPTCHA, and then a message box appears indicating that ‘my email was sent’.  The pop-up closed and I’m left on the original form with a red message indicating asterisk denotes a mandatory field!  Huh?  What do I do?

Here are the UI mistakes:

  • UI mistake number 1: When the pop-up didn’t appear I was left wondering if I’ve already lost the game.
  • UI mistake number 2: What “email”?  I’m not writing an email.  So now I’m further confused.
  • UI mistake number 3: I’m left on the data entry form with all my data filled in and a red star next to mandatory fields, all of which I’ve filled out!  What do I do now?

My suggestions for fixing:

  • Don’t do pop-ups as there are lots of pop-up blockers out there.
  • Remove references to “email” – say something like “your request has been submitted”.
  • Move users off the form if they’ve submitted it successfully.
  • Send users an email so they have a receipt of their submission.

As a final note, I peaked under the hood at the HTML source behind the pop-up – the JavaScript alert (message box) appeared BEFORE a method was called that submitted the form fields to the server.  BIG MISTAKE!  The submission should happen and THEN the user be given confirmation.

OK, one more: the complete CAPTCHA system can be defeated by analyzing the HTML of that pop-up 🙂  But we’ll leave security for another post.

-Krip