The data breaches at Target, Home Depot and elsewhere have inadvertently highlighted a separate and unexpected problem: bad user interface design.
If you’ve been a victim of these data breaches, and subsequently had your credit cards replaced, then you may have already experienced the user interface phenomenon first-hand. The problem surfaces when you take your new credit card information in hand, pull up a chair at the computer, and try to type data into sites that automatically charge you on a monthly basis.
I did this twice in the past year -- first, after the Target data exposure and again after Home Depot’s problem. Both times, I automatically received a new credit card, and then ran the information-change gauntlet.
Good user interfaces have a way of making such changes simple. You navigate to “My Account,” click on “payment information,” type in another password, answer a few security questions, and then enter your information. Within two minutes, you’re finished.
Bad user interfaces, however, are another matter. I found this out after both data breaches. In both cases, the same companies seemed clueless when it came to offering a clear set of steps to change my information. The interfaces were full of noise -- advertisements, stock quotes, weather predictions, and links that served as distractions to the task at hand.
The award for the worst goes to Yahoo.com. When I clicked on “My Yahoo,” I found news, RSS feeds, scoreboards, and horoscopes. When I navigated to Yahoo “Answers,” I found more noise. “Do I prefer beef, pork, chicken or lamb?” the site asked me. Also: “Do I have small eyes?” and “Is life boring?” When I finally found my account information, it allowed me to change my password, view my activity, and manage my aliases. As for payment information, there still was no clue.
After almost two hours, I asked for help from two other adults. They, too, were baffled.
Eventually, I went to Google and searched, “How do I change payment information on Yahoo?” But this, of course, raises a question: Should I be going to Google to learn how to use my Yahoo! account?
The obvious answer is no. “The moment you throw up your hands and go out to Google, their website has failed,” user interface expert Dr. Craig Rosenberg of Global Technica told Design News. “They failed because they’ve required instructions for something that should have been very simple.”
The need to go to such lengths is especially puzzling, given the fact that I’m trying to pay them. It’s hard to imagine a valid reason for turning that into such a complex task.
For designers, the lesson is simple: clarity is key. Whether you’re designing a website or an industrial machine, the user interface needs to be concise and unambiguous. It has to be easy to use and easy to navigate. The customer should never have to go to Google to figure out how to operate it.
”The best user interfaces require no instruction manual,” Rosenberg told us. “They need no documentation. They intuitively point the user’s eyes in the right places.”