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Usability and Coniderate Design

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I hate to imagine that in your web development project team meetings, the one thing that will be overlooked is consideration for the end user. Yet, how many white boards have you seen lately that have "ease of use", or "be polite to customers" scribbled anywhere on them? Rather, the discussion hits on revenue generation, business requirements, colored backgrounds and information architecture. All good things, of course, but I'm quite sure you all want somebody to use it too, correct?

Where is the Shopping Cart button?

A few days after upgrading my cell phone, I decided to go online to purchase a car charger for my new phone.

I found the cell phone model and a page called "Accessories". There was a convenient anchor link at the top of the page that linked downwards to the "vehicle power adapters" section of the page. I clicked on it. I could see, along with the image of the adapter and nearby description, an "Add to Cart" button. It looked so perfect. So logical. I was thinking it was an easy to use shopping cart. Happily, I made my selection and clicked the "Add to Cart" button.

Which, promptly and efficiently, brought me back to the top of the page, where those nice little anchor links were sitting. Huh? I looked all over the screen to find a "Continue Shopping" prompt or a link to "Your Shopping Cart". Something. Anything! I just wanted to order a product online for heavens sake. This is a well-known cell phone company. They can't be this stupid. Worse, I was feeling dumb, and this is something no design should ever do to an end user. Steve Krug says, "Don't Make Me Think". I say if you make us think, at least let us enjoy the moment. It would've been nice to be able to complete that transaction, or find instruction on how I could do so.

I never could. Rather, I left the web site, and asked Google to show me a map to one of their stores located nearby. In this way, I could spend $3 per gallon in gas, take the dog for a car ride, stop for milk and get my car adapter. Why bother with the Internet?

Frightening Forms

One of my favorite areas for finding the "usability with blinders on" effect is within web site forms. These can be contact forms, newsletter signups, shopping carts and sales lead forms. Many of them have no intention of ever being used. You can tell because they require your FAX number to function.

Asking for a phone number is risky. Make sure there is a really good reason for requiring one. For example, if accepting credit cards, a phone number must be entered. I rarely see this noted anywhere, but some people want to know why they're being asked to enter it. Tell them why. They'll feel better about your request.

Sales lead and registration forms are scary. These forms ask for personal information, with the assumption that by the very act of filling it out, the prospect has automatically agreed to be contacted and have their personal information stored somewhere. I don't understand this. We're told not to give out our phone numbers at bars, but its somehow okay to hand it over to someone online who is, after all, a total stranger to us? I've even seen social security numbers as required fields.

I advise anyone who will listen to ask permission when requesting a phone number. In the user instruction located at the beginning of the form, write something friendly such as, "If you would like for us to call you, please enter your phone number." Don't make a phone number a required field. Granted, the whole purpose of an online sales lead form is to get information on a prospect and follow up, but there's a coniderate way to do it. Some people prefer email contact. Some will prefer the phone. If they offer their phone number, your manners don't stop there. You need to add areas in the form that inquire about the best to call your prospect, time zone, or other details to better enable an agreeable time to talk.

Other typical areas that I often see neglected are providing the company address on the form, a contact phone number, hours of operation, email contact and a person's name that your prospect can address when or if they should call. Some phone number fields aren't designed for International phone number entry. These details are especially helpful in cases were business is conducted on a global scale. Never assume everyone is awake when you are.

Lastly, make sure you have a clearly written privacy policy and that it is conveniently linked to from the top of any form or shopping cart process. If the link opens a new window or a popup, please put your end user's mind at ease by telling them that they will not lose any data they may have entered, or won't be taken away from the form page, should they want to peek at the privacy policy. And, of course, make sure this functionality is in place. I can't tell you how many times I clicked on a little FAQ link or information icon while filling out a form, only to return and find all my data has disappeared.

CYA Before Customer Consideration

"Cover your ass" is often one of those hidden requirements that go into any software or web site build process. Adult sites have that nifty warning that says you must be over a certain age to enter the site, and God as your witness; they assume everyone is telling the truth. It doesn't matter to them. They've covered their tootsie by placing that warning there. Spam email often starts out with "This is not spam", as if they've taken some sort of legal action and therefore, it's now okay to send you junk mail.

Assumption are the way of Internet. A recent piece written by OK/Cancel's Tom Chi points out the absurdity of those agreement statements we must accept before being allowed to download new software.

He writes, in Legalese vs. Usability (, "If a site asks for registration and then serves pages of legal text for one to approve before registration is granted, you can be sure that you are losing countless customers."

In general, we've come a long way with user centered software application and web site design. But, one wonders how a major cell phone corporation could let a poorly designed shopping cart exist on their web site. And, with all the emphasis on conversion these days, one of the easiest sales tools can come by promoting gestures like courtesy and consideration for your end user. A sale is just a sale. But a purchase from a company that values its customers' satisfaction is a positive experience.

They'll come back for more.

Usability Consultant, Kimberly Krause Berg, is the owner of, & Her background in organic search engine optimization, combined with web site usability conulting, offers unique insight into web site development.

Copyright 2005


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