Design

Your Problems are NOT your Users Problems

How many times have you been faced with this:

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I complete captchas on a daily basis and am faced with them wherever I go on the internet. What does the captcha represent to you?

To me as a developer it’s a way that developers use to reduce the amount of spam that is received as a result of automated bots that roam the internet exploiting weaknesses. To me as a user it is a burden on humanity that gets in the way of me achieving my aims and objectives of using the web.

The issue I have with this overused annoyance is that it does not solve any problem that I as a user have! Instead it solves problems that I face as a developer! The real issue here and my big revelation is that:

YOUR PROBLEMS ARE NOT YOUR USERS PROBLEMS

Just stop for a second and read that again! Your problems are NOT your users problems.

If we forget the problem that the captcha solves and focus on our users, captchas are a horrific creation. They interrupt the users flow, get in the way of what the user wants to do but worse that they the humble captcha annoys the user especially when they are so complicated its impossible to work out what the system wants you to type or click. Whoever thought that a captcha was a good idea in my view should be taken immediately and put into room 101.

So what are the alternatives? It would be wrong of me to sit here berate you as a for using a captcha without offering some alternatives.

The real issue is that as developers we need to verify that the person who is using our system is real; I believe a captcha is a lazy way of doing this.

Take this scenario! You have a contact form that you are expecting a user to complete; you are worried that unless you use a captcha you will receive huge volumes of spam because there is nothing to prevent a bot from submitting the form.

In reality it is going to take a few second for the user to complete each of the fields – if there is a long message box it might take even longer still.

Computerised bots don’t hang around when completing forms; they get to the form and they repeatedly spam it submitting it multiple times a second.

A potential solution here is to track the behavior of users on our pages. If we record how long it takes the user to complete the form, we can come up with a pretty good idea of whether our user is a real human.

If we get suspicious that the user isn’t real because the form was completed to quickly then maybe this is the point that its ok to use a captcha. But for 95% of users visiting our site its ok just to let the submission through because their behavior verified that they are real.

Of course the above scenario and solution throws up problems. Is it ok for us to track what our users are doing on our websites; will our users be happy with this? My view is that we need to educate users; make the reasons for this clear within the privacy policy so they can read about it – you could even tell them that the alternative is to have a captcha before every submission and I’m sure most users will sympathize and understand.

The work being done by the guys at NUCAPTCHA explores all of these ideas and is revolutionising the way that Captcha works.

Another interesting way to beat the captcha and improve our users experience is to gamify the experience. If we are going to make the user do something tedious what’s wrong with making it a more enjoyable experience; everyone enjoys playing games. That’s exactly the approach that is being taken by SweetCaptcha as they try to make captchas fun.

I’m not naïve enough to think that the captcha is going to go away anytime soon but I hope that this post will make you stop and think about whether there is a way you can solve your problems in a better way that improves your users experience; or at least makes your user smile to brighten their day.

Of course this is only one very small example of how developers inconvenience users to solve their problems. Next time you are faced with a scenario where you need to solve a problem consider what impact your solution will have on the end user and then ask yourself if your solution is a legitimate burden to a user or whether it to should be resigned to room 101.

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Brilliant UX

I’ve recently found myself talking to people more and more about what makes UX either really really good or really really bad.

I came across this image online which I think sums up best practice of user interface design.

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Its important to look at how this manifests itself in real life. The best example of exceptional user interface design that comes into every day life is the common Door Handle.

doorhandleThe door handle is a brilliant example of user interface design because it is quite simply one of the most intuitive objects of everyday life.

I don’t ever remember being told how to use a door handle; and its a concept that in thousands of videos online you see conquered by children and animals alike with absolutely no direction.

This is so true that in nursery schools often the door handle is moved so it is out of reach of the children because staff know if the children can reach the handle then they will be able to open it.

The door handle is quite simply an elegant solution to a complex problem. It hasn’t been over engineered and actually goes unnoticed for the vast majority of the time. Yet imagine the issues we would have if the humble door handle didn’t exist? We would struggle to open doors, wouldn’t be able to lock doors and secure our property, car boots and cars more generally would face difficulties; and if expand the concept to cover the generic handle how many every every day objects would be effected.

Compare and contrast this to UI on the web. We regularly see examples of good clean UI, simplistic in its nature, not over engineered and easy for our users to understand. One of the best examples of stunning UI on the web can be seen on the gov.uk website.
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This website learns from the simplicity of the door handle by making it very obvious what to do. A user has w very clear options when they visit the home page, search or click on a relevant link. When you consider the volume of information published on this website it really is a triumph that it has been categorised into 16 clearly defined areas.

Now lets consider the navigation on this website

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I acknowledge that I have selected an extreme example; but in the website above the navigation is confusing, over engineered and doesn’t help the user to find the content that they are looking for.

The creators of the website above have worked on the principle that everything on the website should be accessible within 2 clicks. While this is a good principle in theory there are times when the rules doesn’t work and simply isn’t helpful to our users. As designs as we search to optimise or users experience by reducing the number of clicks we often find ourselves giving users a greater number of choices which only serves to confuse our users.

The moral of the story here is that we should all try to make our websites more like Door Handles; emulate the simpicity and improve our users flow as they access our online content.

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Is Design More Important than Functionality?

I have worked for several years with developers and designers; arguments often rage between the two groups about what’s more important design or functionality.

It’s also interesting to put clients into this mix. When demonstrating a new system it always fascinates me how end users react. Typically if the system “looks” visually stunning functional deficiencies will be overlooked by the end user – but presenting a system that is functionally perfect without a stunning design often leads to disappointment.

Steve Jobs was notorious for placing huge value on the aesthetics of a product, this is evident in products like the iPhone and the iPad – but does this mean that design is more important than function?

It seems apparent that users like to use systems that feel superior – the human race is notorious for being a little shallow at times and traditionally place a lot of emphasis on the first impression – I guess this is also true of products and product design. In this sense design isn’t necessarily “more” important than functionality but it is incredibly important to always give a good first impression.

To realise that this is true you only need to look at the shock reaction when Susan Boyle demonstrated she had an outstanding voice – or the day that Paul Potts aced his audition. An assumption had been made in both cases that because they didn’t look like traditional pop stars they were not going to be able to sing.

I wonder how many websites have suffered this fate – functionally brilliant but simply didn’t live up to design expectation. What’s you view? Can superior functionality ever live up to expectation without quality design?

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