Monday, May 03, 2010

Rude onerous forms

When I talk professionally about websites, I’m often asked for examples of good and bad design. I’m reluctant to provide examples of bad sites, primarily because it’s so easy to sit on the sidelines and snipe, without knowing the full circumstances and constraints of the design team.
In my personal life, however, I’m quite happy to whine, and I do so frequently when something irks me.
Recently Marcus’ teacher recommended to the kids that they get a magazine called "How your body works". Each week you get a different part of the body, and in the end (after thirty-something issues and a re-mortgage) you have a 1m tall skeleton with various organs and you’re ready to be a surgeon.
We bought the first issue at the newsagent. It included the lower half of the skull, with 32 teeth to be individually inserted. Marcus (and I) loved it, and the accompanying text was good, so we decided to take up the included subscription offer and order online.
That’s when things started to go awry, because the process of subscribing was painful.
Why? Where do I start…
Firstly, I had to register. That’s a pain, but I can understand the business rationale, even though it's funny that in the real world everyone is much happier to take your money. Even Amazon makes you register.
In order to register, I had to create a "login name". I already have a name, and I’m quite happy with it. I’ve had it for years. But now, apparently, I needed a new one (and it had to be a maximum of 10 characters). (Amazon doesn't force you to take a new name; I guess they're happy with a more casual relationship, and aren't insisting on marriage.) I also had to specify a security question. Why all this? Presumably because in my ongoing relationship with Bissett Magazine Services I would occasionally forget my user name and have to be reminded of it. Perhaps I'm being naïve, but I can't imagine that there are all that many customers who order lots and lots of things from Bissett Magazine Services.
When specifying the "deliver to" details (and bear in mind I was ordering for a child), I had to specify date of birth and gender. Why Bissett Magazine Services consider themselves to be entitled to not only ask for this information, but make it mandatory, is beyond me.
Thankfully Marcus, despite his tender years, is an aspiring privacy activist, so he instructed me to falsify his date of birth and gender.
(Guideline 1 for online empowerment: When forced to answer inappropriate questions, always lie).
At the bottom of the form, there were no fewer than 6 checkboxes. I always feel it’s antisocial to default to the option that disadvantages the customer, particularly if you bury the key information so deeply in the accompanying text that the customer has to put effort into decoding it.
In any case, having waded through this unnecessarily intrusive form, I clicked "Confirm".
The next page told me that my chosen user name (the entity formerly known as "login name") was "…not available. Please try a new login and password". That was bad, but what was much worse was that my new paramour had thrown out most of the information I’d already provided. (What was your name again?)
This is incredibly rude. It’s the sort of behaviour you might expect from a vengeful bureaucrat in a centrally planned economy. Making people do extra work because you’ve been too lazy or incompetent to do a decent design job is unacceptable.
At this stage I would normally shoot off an angry email to the organisation in question and forget about it. However, Marcus was at my side with his education at risk, so I went back and tried again.
And again was rejected.
You can see in the image the user name I finally used.
I would bet good money that Bissett Magazine Services has a database full of user names like this. I’d also bet good money that lots of people lie about their date of birth and gender, so their database is at least partially corrupt.
I’d also bet good money that many people quit in frustration because of the unnecessarily difficult process they’re forced to go through.
The magazine better be damn good.


  1. Excellent example of the absence of user testing!

  2. Alfred Low5:43 pm

    They must think their products are worth the pain they put their potential online customer through. The other issue are services that force you to sign up before giving you details (a summary blurb is not enough for me) about what they offer. Example: