Eight fundamental principles to underpin UX/UI design

The eight principles

When critiquing or explaining a design it can be useful to reference principles – they provide a North Star that you can fall back on when short of ideas, and give a level of consistency to your work. They are not generally a tool for innovation and you can still produce an unusable design when trying to follow them, although it’s harder than if you don’t have principles. A colleague who was once asking for them thought that they could provide an algorithm to generate a design, or be definitive about whether a given design was the ‘right’ one. It doesn’t work like that.

These are based on some work we did at British Airways, with a big shout out to my colleague Lee Head who for many years was the lead (indeed the only) UI designer working on ba.com. Kudos. Lee was instrumental in pulling it all together.

The eight principles are

  • Design for customers
  • Design with knowledge
  • Focus on the task
  • Make it clear and simple
  • Make use of conventions
  • Be consistent not prescriptive
  • Avoid errors
  • Use design dimensions

I’m not claiming these are the only principles that you’ll need or that they can’t be improved. But they are a useful starting point.

Design for users

For services to be successful they must be designed for the user and their goals. Take satisfaction and emotion into account.

This should be an obvious starting point. Personas can be a useful way of describing the target audience – of which there may be more than one. What do your users know or not know about your product? What devices are they using? What are their physical capabilities? How can you personalise the experience and generate positive emotions whilst avoiding negative ones?

Collate all the information you have on users and decide which are the relevant (and prioritised) dimensions. Then let than influence design.

Design with knowledge

Gather information that could improve design solutions. The more
knowledge we have, the more likely we are to find a better design.

Start with the objective of the design. It’s remarkable how often you can ask a designer ‘what is this page for?’ and get a blank look. What’s the overall objective of the process, of the page, of the component?

Knowledge of the user and the objective should then lead to content. What content is needed to satisfy the objective?

‘Data driven design’ is an oft-used phrase, and rightly so. Collate existing metrics and research on user behaviour which shed light on what users want and how they want it. These can feed into success metrics. The knowledge doesn’t just have to be from your own organisation – competitor reviews play in here also.

Test early and often to ensure that you know you are doing the right thing, and keep measuring once live.

Focus on the task

Don’t make things hard for users. Break down tasks into manageable chunks and simplify the design.

Have a clear idea of what’s important. Secondary and edge cases may generate a need for additional content and a modified design, but shouldn’t distract from the main (user) goal.

User choices and how to progress should be clear and standout, and the consequences of actions should be predictable. Too often I’ve sat frowning at a screen trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do next, or how to make a selection. Real-world buttons stand out physically and they should stand out from a design. Flat design is a usability disaster.

On many sites you’ll see paragraphs of text followed by ‘Click here for more information’. Users scan links so they should be stand-alone and ‘click here’ just forces them to read more than is necessary. Instead use ‘More information about product x’. Don’t embed the links in the middle of text or if you do, repeat them away from the text so they stand out.

Only ask for information when it’s needed, and don’t ask for it if it’s not going to be used. Provide information only where it’s needed and useful – and in the eyeline, not off to one side. Provide negative as well as positive information. Users need to know what they can’t do just as much as what they can do.

Maintain a ‘scent’ so that users know that they are progressing in the right direction.

I’ve found that for sequential processes, such as a checkout, then just having the word ‘continue’ on the continue button works better than e.g. ‘go to payment’ or ‘review basket’. It’s simpler, requires no interpretation and is quite sufficient. I would only label the final button e.g. ‘Pay now’. This principle may need to be modified if there are multiple possible ‘continue’ paths.

Make it clear and simple

Nothing destroys a considered design approach more than poor layout. A cluttered design is not only hard to use, it reduces satisfaction. We should strive for a clear and simple layout that makes the experience easier and more delightful.

Everything on a screen takes attention away from other things and so has to justify its existence. Clarity of communication has to be a prime objective. So often you’ll see a useless introductory line or paragraph on a product page along the lines of ‘On this page you’ll find the best products of this type anywhere in the world and our goal is to serve you. See below for what we have to offer’. No one reads that. It’s clutter. Users go straight to the useful content.

The purpose and content of a page should be clear at a glance. Maintain an appropriate heading hierarchy, and don’t use heading styles purely to style the text, as that messes up accessibility.

When you include keywords in links, ensure that that keyword is immediately visible when the user follow it so they know they’ve arrived at the right place.

Reduce visual noise – don’t have a variety of fonts, colours, shapes, carousels etc for the sake of it. For gods sake don’t centre long paragraphs of text.

Make use of conventions

Using design conventions can be a useful method of simplifying a design. Use them unless there is a very good reason not to.

You might think that a quirky navigation and unusual interactions reflect your personality or brand – but it would turn users off. The likes of Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple can get away with introducing new standard elements because of their reach. Most brands don’t have that leverage. Users just want to get their stuff done. They aren’t there to admire your design.

There’s a reason for radio buttons, checkboxes and dropdowns all existing. Understand what they are good for and what they aren’t good for. Use them appropriately. You don’t need new methods. Apply this practice to all design elements.

Innovate only if you can prove that users get it and it adds value.

Be consistent, not prescriptive

Develop a pattern/component library and use it consistently. Vary it only if the context requires it.

This needs collaboration between design and engineering. A proliferation of styles either visually or technically hurts the business and the user experience. Have a process and a decision maker responsible for allowing (or not) exceptions to the standard design.

Somewhat ironically, unless a design variation is large, designers will usually spot specific variations more than users, but nevertheless those variations can cause confusion and lead to a poorer impression of your brand.

Consistency applies to terminology as much as visual design.

Avoid errors

Good design minimises the risk of user error. When it can’t be prevented, ensure customers understand what to do to achieve success.

It drives me crazy when I use a form or a process with obscure instructions, instructions in the wrong place, instructions that aren’t needed, poor labelling, unintuitive order of fields and a whole litany of other issues. Then you finally press the button, wait for a long time, and then get an error message that could have been checked inline.

If you do present an error message say (as far as you can)

  • what has gone wrong
  • why it’s gone wrong
  • what the user can do about it

Use design dimensions

There are slightly varying lists and terminology, but much common agreement on the dimensions of design. Using them intelligently will greatly enhance the user experience.

  • Contrast/similarity
  • Positive/negative space
  • Line
  • Shape
  • Form
  • Colour (hue)
  • Colour value (tone)
  • Direction
  • Size
  • Texture
  • Grouping/separation (space)
  • Motion

Take grouping and separation as an example – many times on ecommerce sites I’ve been confused by the prices in a grid layout being closer to another item than the item it refers to.

You can use colour as a guide to product type e.g. electronics are all blue, clothing are all white – so long as it’s not a critical cue that would be missed by those of us who are colour blind.

I very much like Google’s Material Design as it does so much that’s right. The ‘card’ design does grouping and separation well, and motion is used to help with usability.

Finally

It’s quite possible that someone else would come up with a different set of principles with different headings or structure – but I’m sure there would be considerable overlap.

The list above isn’t the final answer – it’s just intended to be useful.

The tyranny of design. Why you need to focus on objective outcomes in interface design.

In-flight entertainment – a story

Some years ago at British Airways there was a project to design an interface for a new in-flight entertainment system. My then-colleague and friend Mike Lock was project managing. Mike is the real godfather of digital usability at British Airways. Whilst I set up and developed the UX, Design and Research team, I did so off the back of what Mike had already done to sow the seeds of awareness and need. He says I’m too modest, but I call it as I see it.

British Airways’ in-flight entertainment screen

For the design of the IFE interface a small number of companies had been asked to present a concept. At the end of the presentations it was clear to Mike that only company X had grasped the issues around information architecture and navigation, although the visual design was a bit off. He was shocked to hear when going round the table that no-one else favoured company X. All the other (more senior) stakeholders in the room went for a more on-brand visual design. Mike felt overwhelmed – like all the big guns were pointed at him and he only had a cardboard shield to deflect the blows.

‘But’, said Mike, ‘the one you all like does look nice, but no-one will be able to use it. It’s not a design where the usability issues can be fixed – it needs throwing away and starting again.’ Sceptical faces were all he saw, but he kept going. ‘Although the design from company X isn’t quite on brand it is usable, and we can fix the design elements relatively easily.’ The meeting broke up with the stakeholders thinking that Mike didn’t get it, and there was no way they were going with company X. But Mike still wasn’t giving up.

That meeting was on a Friday and the group was going to reconvene on Monday to decide what to do. Mike was desperate to find a way to influence the decision towards the one he knew to be correct. Over the weekend he took the images from the presentations and turned them into clickable prototypes using Powerpoint. It was all that was available in those days. He then videod his mum ‘using’ the two interfaces. This was in the days of camcorders that recorded on tape. She couldn’t use the pretty design but got on pretty well with the from company X.

On Monday Mike played the video to the group. Ultimately he won the argument, company X got the contract and re-worked the design, and it was implemented on many aircraft. It left a bad taste in Mike’s mouth though. He had to work too hard to prove a simple point and taken a load of senior shit for it.

The lessons

Something similar to that scenario has played out again and again over time. There are lessons to be learned.

Firstly you can’t assume that your stakeholders get what it takes for an interface to be usable. It’s one of those contradictions in life – we’ll all swear at an interface that frustrates us, but (some of us) would still build an interface for our own companies that incorporate the same frustrations. It’s human nature – we’re often not aware of the causes of our emotions, and most people don’t analyse exactly what it is that they don’t like about a website or an app. They just ‘know’ that it doesn’t work for them.

Secondly, if you have business people who are (relatively) sane and rational it should be possible to influence their perception of effective design. They do actually want it to work. There are different ways of doing this, and sometimes it depends on the person as to what the best way is. Some people like to review a spreadsheet of analytics following a multivariate test, but usually the best way of snagging a stakeholder is for them to see a real customer being unable to use an interface that that stakeholder thought was ok. It hits at an emotional level that has impact. Get them to watch live research in person – but if you can’t, then show the video.  If you can, involve them in the setup of the research so they can’t quibble with the methodology afterwards.

Thirdly, agencies vary in their expertise. Some are better at UI, some excel in IA, some at ecommerce. It’s critical when engaging an agency to make sure they have the expertise to do what the client wants, and to be clear about what success looks like. I wrote another post on why agency/client engagements often don’t work.

The landscape today

Designing for mobile forces the designer to ruthlessly prioritise content and produce a compact design. Users focus more because there’s less to look at, and identify more issues with confusing and irrelevant copy which they would just ignore on a desktop screen. More people are using phones more of the time, but desktop isn’t dead yet. I don’t know if it’s a reaction to compact phone design, but desktop design seems to have gone the other way.

A short while ago I was talking to a senior business manager about her company’s desktop site. It had been designed by an agency and she had complained that there was too much scrolling. The agency had ‘explained’ that it was ‘modern design’. The business manager was right, there was too much scrolling.

It seems to be the vogue to have enormous images, lots of white space, and huge font sizes. If you have an ‘artistic’ site or a particular brand image all of this might be appropriate. However, for most ecommerce or informational sites it isn’t appropriate. Customers want to get in, do their stuff, and get out. They want the experience to be a perfect combination of ease, pleasure, succinctness, entertainment, effectiveness etc. And yes, that does include a site that’s pleasant to look at. But if they have to repeatedly scroll just to find out what’s on offer, or to find the information relevant to them, then it’s not achieving their goals and it’s not helping the company to win their business. There are some sites where I’ll go to read an article and I almost feel like I’ve been punched in the face by the huge font that’s difficult and unpleasant to read.

My perception is that many, if not most agency sites are culprits of implementing a triumph of design over communication. If they built their clients’ sites like they built their own then their clients would go out of business.

The bottom line

I’ve had excruciating debates with got-religion UI designers who can’t bear to see the excellence of their design debased and compromised in pursuit of mere money. They don’t disagree that the design impacts usability – they just think making the design right is more important. I’ve told them I’m not prepared to explain to the CEO that we chose to make lower profits so that we could adhere to the designer’s idea of a nice-looking interface.

I want to be clear that I’m not at all putting down UI. It’s absolutely essential. It’s just not the reason why we do all this work.

The reason for the existence of UX, UI, research, interaction design, information architecture etc etc is to be effective in the mission of the organisation paying for the work to be done, which is usually to make money and/or to communicate. We need to focus on the goals and objectives for the interface, where ‘on brand’ is a primary goal and ‘nice looking’ is a secondary goal.

It all needs to come together. Figuring out what works needs to be based on research, on facts – if anyone can stomach facts in a post-fact world.

 

UX, Design and Research are critical core functions for fintech

Fintech is buzzing

Financial services in general have been undergoing significant change for some time driven by digital technologies. The ongoing closure of high street bank branches has been a matter of much public comment. The application of new technologies to financial services has generated the term ‘fintech’, and there’s a lot going on. It’s fascinating There are some companies offering the same services as have existed for a long time – such as insurance or lending – and using tech to drive down the costs for the end customer. There are others using tech to offer something a bit different.

Whatever the business though, it’s not enough to have a good idea or even a good execution Whereas in previous times transactions were always mediated by people – over the counter or the phone – who could provide a buffer to clunky systems and terminology, with digital the user interface has to be good enough, and can be a competitive advantage in its own right. If customers can’t navigate your system, you’re out of business.

Digital coin exchanges

Here’s an example from digital coin exchanges.

This is an extract of Bitrex homepage. Erm…. maybe they are just targeting expert traders who know them and know what they do. They aren’t going to suck in many mainstream investors. ‘Explore markets’??? What markets? Sign up for what?

Bittrex section of homepage

Their homepage blurb is this.

Lloyds mortgage page

There’s an obvious difference in apparent complexity between these designs. The aim should be to make it easy for any individual to find their path. The first two designs would seem to achieve that aim. With Lloyds, should I go to ‘Find out more’ or one of the other choices? Is this the right place to tell prospective customers that their homes may be repossessed?What’s all that legal-looking text at the top about? And what’s a ‘Club Lloyds current account customer’ that gets a discount? How can I be one? There’s no information here.

Lloyds are talking to Club Lloyds customers at this point, but what about everyone else? At British Airways there are benefits for members of The Executive Club – the airline’s frequent flyer scheme (despite its name anyone can join for free and earn miles). Around the site there would be, for example, a description of how to choose a seat, with a rider of ‘and Executive Club members can do x’. It was aimed at Executive Club members who (mostly) knew that they were a member. However, many non-members didn’t know if they were members or not – or how to become one. It’s important when presenting messages to think not only of the people who it’s for, but also the people who it’s not for, and to provide supporting information where needed. In Lloyds case it would help if there was some in-context information available (such as a mouseover) that could inform the curious customer as to what a ‘Club Lloyds current account customer’ is.

Borderless banking

There are a growing number of digital nomads working remotely and moving around the globe, and so more borderless bank accounts are appearing, along with other methods of cheaply moving money across borders.

ipagoo have a multi country account, and TransferWise has recently added a ‘borderless account’ to their list of services.

The ipagoo website needs work. The contrast of the text to background is poor making it hard to read and key information doesn’t stand out. Also, one of the obvious questions that digital nomads will ask is ‘what countries does this account work in?’. Where can I get paid? It’s not obvious how to get that information on the ipagoo site. Here’s part of their homepage.

ipagoo home

There are no obvious navigation options to tell me which countries I can get paid in. I spent some time looking around but ultimately I had to contact the company to find out. You have to ‘apply now’, which is counter-intuitive. I don’t want to apply yet, I want more information.

Here’s what you get on the apply now page.

ipagoo apply now

Even more oddly, you now have to click the link to find out if you are eligible for an account. This is structured the way the company thinks about it – not the way that customers think. From ipagoo’s point of view, if you aren’t in one of the listed countries, you’re not eligible. But it doesn’t help customers to structure the information that way.

Here’s what you get if you click the link.

ipgoo eligibility page

At last, here’s the list, but I would never have found it and I would never have opened an account.

By contrast TransferWise present the information in a more customer-friendly way.

TransferWise information

There’s a summary right there as to which countries are covered.

HSBC do offer an account that does something similar, but there is a list of eligibility criteria that will exclude many of the new generation of international workers, some of whom will end up rich but sticking with the new players. Maybe HSBC have their eye on this but history is littered with the remains of businesses that didn’t move early enough to deal with challengers.

UX, Design, and Research are critical functions for fintech

Fintech startups and established businesses, like all digital businesses, need to treat the customer experience as a core business competency. That means doing the research to understand the customer perspective – what information does the customer need along the way? Can they find it easily? Can the customer transact easily? Does the design reflect brand values and support the usability?

That means recruiting and keeping specialists who know how to do this stuff. Good UX/UI and research people will be able to apply their skills across business domains.

A founder or CEO who thinks they know what a user interface should look like, or how it should work, and thinks they don’t need design expertise is unlikely to be the success they think they should be.

Predictive text or dropdown. Which is better?

Which is best, predictive text (aka type-ahead), or a pre-populated dropdown? As ever the answer is ‘it depends’. However, I do sense that predictive text has become the default, even when it might not be the right thing to do. Which approach to take on the British Airways booking panel was the single longest running argument I had with colleagues at BA.

British Airways old booking panel

To choose where you wanted to fly from there was one dropdown for country and one for city which was populated according to the selected country. However, to choose where you wanted to fly to, it was predictive text. When the user started typing matches would show up for city, airport, or country names.

The funny thing was that time after time colleagues at BA asked why we didn’t change the dropdowns to predictive text. My boss, my team, colleagues in the business would all argue passionately for predictive text in the ‘From’ field. The reason that was odd was that on a number of occasions in usability labs customers would ask why we didn’t change the predictive text to dropdowns in the ‘To’ field. Not one customer ever asked for what my colleagues wanted. Yet when I explained this internally people found it very difficult to accept as it was so counter-intuitive to them.

So why was the panel designed that way? Good question. I’m not sure I can clearly articulate the original thinking, but here’s the post-rationalisation. If you are flying from somewhere the likelihood is that you know where you want to go from – or at least which country. It’s also likely that many customer don’t know which airports BA flies from, but by selecting the country they get a definitive list. It also means that you don’t have to be able to spell the name of an airport or city to get a hit, and if your favoured city isn’t in the list then you know for sure BA don’t go there. Those factors aren’t catered for in predictive text.

If you are flying to somewhere there’s more of chance that you’re not so familiar with the destination. If you know you want to go to Sofia you may not know which country it’s in. You might not even know what continent it’s on. So the predictive text is less constraining where a search might be more diverse.

In the usability labs customers liked the fact that didn’t have to think – so long as they knew their departure country.

By contrast, let’s take a look at what Ryanair do.

Ryanair booking panel

Both the ‘from’ and ‘to’ fields have a consistent design which in principle is good. You can pick the country, and then you pick the airport. But you can also just type something in. If you didn’t know which country Dusseldorf was in, and typed ‘Dus’, then Dusseldorf would show up. The customer gets the choice of which method to use.

I do recall a time when Ryanair had all destinations in a single dropdown which covered the entire page of a desktop screen. It was a bit much.

There is a sense in which pre-population merges into a hierarchical navigation. Amazon couldn’t have a single dropdown with all their products in it, but you can drill down through the product listings to get a relevant (more or less) set of results. It’s the same principle as the BA and Ryanair menus, just presented in a different context.

A simple rule of thumb is that if there is a ‘small’ set of possible choices, then use a pre-populated dropdown. If you use predictive text then a key issue is how you handle errors. You could disable progress unless a valid choice is made from the options displayed. This eliminates the possibility of the user getting an error from the search, but doesn’t help if they don’t know what the choices are or what the spelling is.

If you don’t force a valid choice then if the user enters an invalid search term it’s typical to see ‘did you mean’, as exemplified here by Amazon. I searched for ‘beetles red album’, and the system guessed that I wanted the ‘Beatles’ red album, but still allowed me to insist on ‘beetles’ if I really wanted to. This is useful.

Amazon response to search for ‘beetles red album’

It can also be useful, even if the user enters a valid search term, to show alternatives.

There is a Sydney in Australia and also one in Canada. There have been occasional stories in the press of travellers flying to the wrong one. Perhaps if their search engines had been clearer that there were other ‘Sydney’s the error might have been avoided.

There is a Grenada in the Caribbean and a Granada in Spain. Just because someone types in, or selects, a valid search term doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the one they want.

The booking panel on ba.com now has predictive text

BA predictive text

This approach doesn’t wait until the user has hit the ‘enter’ button to let them know their search term isn’t recognised, and it makes helpful suggestions.

Summary

As is often the case with design there are some useful patterns out there, but which one you choose will depend on context.

If you have a limited number of defined choices use a dropdown. There’s no hard rule on how many is too many. That again can depend on context and how users react. Once you get to too many then you need to start categorising into a menu structure.

If you use predictive text consider whether you want to force a valid choice. Let the user know that their text is not recognised (where appropriate), and offer alternatives. You still often see a simple ‘no results’ as a consequence of a simple spelling error. Consider whether it’s better to alert the user to the issue before or after the search button is pressed.

The two approaches aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, as the Ryanair example shows.

A little thought and consideration of the issues could make a significant difference to experience on many sites.

Here’s a comment from an ex-colleague, Allan Dade.

Predictive text can pip drop downs to the post if they are built correctly for screen readers. Drop-downs are a tad easier to build to standards as long as the number of ‘results’ are announced so that the visually impaired customer doesn’t have to. Longer dropdowns can cause display issues on mobile, while assistive choice can be disrupted by the way a user uses their device.

Internal and recruitment applications need as much UX as ecommerce

Companies need to give as much attention to their internal digital applications as they do to ecommerce

Most companies these days have realised that they need to ensure at least an adequate user experience on their customer-facing digital touchpoints. Many though haven’t realised that they need to put the same effort into internal applications.

Whilst those responsible for external facing applications can often justify the necessary expense with an ROI based on revenue, it’s more likely that internal developments would be justified in cost savings or productivity which can be hard to calculate. That’s not to say that revenue is easy to judge either. It’s also typically the case that the people in charge of internal applications have (even) less experience of UX and usability than their external facing colleagues.

I have been subjected to many awful internal interfaces for the likes of raising purchase orders, staff expenses, workflow management, time management etc. I once set up a meeting with the owner of a purchase order system which had to be used by staff who wanted to make a company purchase. The system was notorious amongst users, most of whom only had need for occasional use. Many hours were wasted with people spending too much time helping colleagues navigate the arcane structure. In our meeting I suggested to the owner that there was a problem with usability, and that internal productivity would be improved with adaptations to the system. The owner disagreed. They received few complaints, there was a help system, and anyone who needed more help could just ask. I enquired whether any users had been involved in the implementation of the system. Oh yes, said the owner, we had an expert panel. The problem was, as I’ve said, most users weren’t experts. I didn’t have the time to chase the argument.

The consequences of poor internal usability can be severe. A PO could be raised for the wrong amount, or the wrong currency, or in a way that made it hard to receipt. In another system I had to declare a gift from a supplier. I used a drop-down to declare the type of gift, filled in the rest of the form, and pressed the button. Some time later an irate compliance officer contacted me to say that I’d broken the rules by accepting the gift. I pointed out that I had no intent to do so as evidenced by the fact that I’d declared it, and that the form had not given me the relevant information. Yes it had, the officer said, it was in words at the end of the form. It was true, the words were there but I’d missed them. The appropriate place for them was when I’d selected the type of gift – I should have been presented with an unavoidable and relevant message at that point.

There are other examples, but hopefully you get the point.

An oft-quoted excuse is that the system in question has been bought-in, that there are limited customisation options and that they cost money. It’s a fair point, but needs to be weighed up against how fit for purpose the system is. That calculation is often not made. Some vendors are better than others at ensuring the usability of the systems they sell, but if their customers aren’t asking for usability then the vendors aren’t going to put a lot of effort into it.

All of this was highlighted when I recently applied for a job using a system that isn’t fit for purpose by most standards. I just happen to have picked this as an example. There have been others.

Applying for a job

Start on Linkedin…

I saw a job on Linkedin that I wanted to apply for. Head of Online Search at LexisNexis.

Job ad

To Neuvoo

When I clicked the ‘apply’ button I went to the page below on Neuvoo.co.uk, which is a job site. I had hoped to be able to immediately fill in a form but had more realistic expectation of going to another job listing, which it was. I wasn’t immediately sure if I was in the right place due to the ads at the top – but I was.

Job list

Since I was here to apply, not read the same description, I looked for another ‘apply’ button. I had to scroll down to the bottom of the job ad to find it. It would make sense to have an ‘apply’ button at the top as well as at the bottom. The idea is to make it easy.

Apply button

When I clicked to apply I did at this point expect to go to a form to fill in. Instead, I’m asked to sign up for email alerts.

Sign up form

Selectminds.com

I chose ‘no thank you’ which took me to the following page on selectminds.com, which is a ‘talent search and acquisition platform’ that’s been bought by Oracle. It seems that it’s a white-label platform used by many companies.

For the third time now I’m on a page with the job listing and an ‘apply’ button. Who is thinking about the user journey?

Another job listing

Once again, I clicked on ‘apply for job’ and got the popup below.

Start of application

In this popup, the name fields are greyed out and can not be edited. It’s impossible to enter your first and last names. I had encountered this before and it had nearly stopped me from applying for a job. I eventually figured out that you have to be logged in. Because I’d used selectminds before (but not for LexiNexis) the site ‘knew’ that I had a login and that I wasn’t logged in, but there is no indication that this is why I could not proceed.

When I did log in, I saw the following.

Start of application again

Although the design takes the eye down to check the name fields you have to go back up to the ‘Go’ button to continue. It’s a basic usability issue that shouldn’t happen.

When you click the ‘Go’ button, all that happens is that a ‘Start your application’ button appears at the bottom of the popup. The ‘Go’ button is seemingly redundant.

The same form

Much of the text here isn’t needed. It says that you need Flash but I don’t have Flash installed and I didn’t encounter a need for it. It also warns that popup blockers should be disabled – they should not be essential in an age when increasing numbers of people are installing them.

There’s also an instruction ‘if you’ve previously registered, please login and search for the job you are applying for’. If this instruction is important it should be more obvious – in a bullet point – but I’m not at all clear why I should need to search at all. I’ve clicked a link to apply for a specific job and the page should know that I’m logged in. Flash is mentioned again.

Clicking on the red button, takes you to the next page.

Taleo.net

Another registration screen

I’m now on taleo.net, another white label recruitment platform. Small text beneath the image says that I’m logged in but the prominent content is a new user registration form. I was utterly confused – again.

As the previous instruction had been to log in and search for the job you wanted, I went to the ‘job search’ form. I tried two searches, firstly using ‘search’ as a keyword (because the job I’m applying for has ‘search’ in the job title), and secondly using the job reference.

Job search 1
Search again

Both searches resulted in no jobs found.

‘No results’ message

In fact, the form appears not to be working at all. I searched on the defaults for ‘all’ jobs in ‘all’ regions and still received no results.

I went to advanced search.

Advanced search

Here I saw the link to all jobs at Relx. It took some experimentation to find that only the ‘R’ is a link. One day I want to build a spoof website incorporating all the worst design elements that I’ve seen. I wonder if someone beat me to it.

The ‘R’ took me to yet another search form.

Another landing page and search form

Using ‘search’ as a keyword again yielded no results.

Searching for ‘search’

I listed all jobs.

Search results header

This time jobs are listed, but Head of Search is not one of them. Ironic really.

I went back to this screen.

Another registration screen, again

Although I’m logged in, I hit the G+ new user registration button, and got the screen below.

Application process

For reasons I cannot imagine this was the route I needed to follow. I didn’t need to search for the job, I needed to hit the Google Plus button. Go figure. I uploaded my cv. The guidance said that education and work experience will be replaced in my profile. I’m not sure what that means.

Resume upload

Next up was the form below. The system isn’t intelligent enough to read my cv and extract and pre-fill my name, address etc, and the contents of drop-downs are not displayed properly.

Personal information entry

There are two definitions of what’s meant by ‘State/Province’

2 State/province entries

The ‘region’ selection is an odd mixture of towns, cities, areas and counties. It’s one I’ve seen on other US sites. It’s like some intern was given the job of populating the drop-down from an old school atlas (remember those?).

Region selector

Thankfully, there were only a few more simple fields to fill in after this, and my application was done. I’m still waiting to hear.

Wrap up

There’s a business reason for this process – companies want to employ the best people. But the difficulty of making an application means that an individual’s persistence becomes the first filter, regardless of their fitness for the role. I don’t think that’s intended. With my application I included a message that the process had been difficult and that I could provide feedback if it would be helpful. I didn’t expect it to affect my application either way. No one took me up on the offer.

When applying for other roles through Taleo.net I’ve had other issues. Although (obviously) my job history is in my cv which is attached to each new application, there are still forms to fill in asking for job history. What’s the point? What am I supposed to do? I cut and paste. Likewise for educational achievements. It’s a waste of time.

Another time I had to give references. That just seems unnecessary at this point. When doing so I could not tell whether the ‘title’ field referred to Mr, Miss, Ms etc, or whether I was supposed to fill in a job title. Maybe getting it wrong accounts for another lack of response to my application.

It seems a little ironic to me that I’m applying for roles that relate to usability through systems with poor usability. There could be reasons why it’s not easy for companies to make changes, but those responsible should at least be aware. And care. I told one job owner that a job advertised on Linkedin linked to the wrong application form. It hadn’t been updated two weeks later.

For the likes of Selectminds and Taleo – there’s work to do.