OPINION: I wish there was a UX law

Gordon McNenney
By Gordon McNenney | 13 August 2013
Gordon McNenney, Content and Communications Director at DT

No Apple staffer ever told Steve Jobs, "dude, don't sweat the small stuff." It's in the detail that great user experiences happen. Web designers, writers and developers need to develop a healthy strain of Jobs’ obsessive-compulsive approach. And they need to learn from those who have already gotten it right.

Way back in 1986, Apple developers worked out the algorithm for making fly-out navigation effortless. Even though this code is now in the public domain, countless websites still leave users’ cursors hanging in empty space.

Of course, most UX problems are due only to a lack of a focus on what users need and want. The most important UX rules are learned from actual users – best practice may not always be best. But there are some simple UX experiences I think every website should get right.

Ecommerce UX Laws

Disclose shipping costs up front in the shopping cart.

It’s fine to base shipping costs on a user’s shopping cart and location. But don’t make users complete address forms before revealing these costs; provide ‘estimated shipping costs’ up front based on postcodes.

Unless your site is based in Afghanistan, don’t make it the first ‘country’ option in address forms.

Unless you do a huge international business, the top 'country' option should be your own, not more alphabetically advantaged but unlikely choices such as Afghanistan, Albania and Andorra.

Make credit card form fields adapt to user preferences.

If users want to put spaces between credit card numbers, just like they’re spaced on their cards, let them. If they want to add dashes between number groups, let them. Until we all get NFC payment chips embedded in our foreheads, we’ll need to keep typing those 15 or 16 digit numbers and 3 or 4 digit CCVs and proofreading them twice. This is ecommerce's ‘make or break’ moment, so make it as easy as possible.

Login UX Laws

Don’t wait to give users password help.

If your site has password complexity requirements (e.g. ‘at least eight characters and one number’), tell users what they are before they set their passwords rather than with an error message. Then, should registered users get their passwords wrong, remind them about the requirements in your error message. If a user name isn’t registered, let users know that’s specifically the problem. A little help can save a lot of frustration.

Don’t make users re-enter their user names if they forget their passwords.

On phones especially, re-typing your user name again and again as you try different passwords can feel like something that should be banned by the Geneva Convention.

On mobile logins, give users the right keyboard for the task.

If your mobile site or app has email-based user names (as virtually all do), be sure to display the mobile keyboard with the '@' symbol visible (you can implement this with HTML5’s ‘pattern’ attribute). Apple came up with these keyboard time-savers years ago. Sometimes imitation is the sincerest form of usability.

Once users are logged in, pre-populate any new forms with the personal information you already know.

If the tech team says it will cost serious cash to make this happen, think of it as an investment in customer happiness.

And remind the tech team that since this is now a UX law, not complying can result in fines, jail time or perhaps something more horrible...like suspension of their World of Warcraft accounts. 

Email Opt In UX Laws

Don't make people log in to unsubscribe from your email.

If you send different types of emails, it makes sense to give users the option to 'change my subscription options'. But this should only be an option. If I want to break up with you completely, I should be able to do it without logging in. Remember it really is about me not you, so don't make it difficult for both of us.

Tell people clearly and simply how you will use their email.

Assure users that you (and your ‘trusted third-party partners’) are not going to suddenly start treating your email like their new BFF. This type of clear disclosure is hardly new UX thinking, but it's still relatively uncommon. Whenever possible, tell users exactly what they will receive – or show them with a link to a recent eDM newsletter or promo. If it looks good, I'm in like Flynn (if only in the opt-in like Flynn sense).

Hyperlink UX Laws

Display downloads and external links differently from internal links.

The experience of clicking a link should be one of reorientation, not disorientation. It’s easy to annotate download links with file types and sizes, and external links with the familiar ‘box/arrow’ icon. I’m sure no one would ever read this article on their phones if they had to download it as a 7Mb PDF.

Give your PDF a filename that makes sense.

An extraordinary number of downloads seem to have filenames written by the legal assistant who forwarded it to the production coordinator who interfaces with the team in a different country. Once intuitive filenames become the law for downloads, someone will finally have to start paying attention to this.

Optimise download file sizes.

If that 2Mb application form looks just as good at 200Kb, not optimising it is probably costing you money. After about a megabyte, most people are reluctant to share files by email. Even when we have optical fibre, most of us will probably still have Microsoft Outlook.

I'm sure all of us could share a similar UX wishlist and I invite you to do so on a Quora.com conversation I’ve created. We are all becoming connoisseurs of good experiences because we're used to brands like Apple and Amazon that almost always get it right. Don't go to UX jail. By investing in online experience and paying attention to every detail, great UX can be a valuable asset for your brand.

Gordon McNenney 
Content and Communications Director

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