Here’s a good example of how not to design a user interface.
Yesterday I realised that I needed to pay my tax bill. My accountants had filed the return, it was just up to me to actually stump up the money. The deadline for payment is January 31st so it was a bit late to send the payment in by post, but I noticed that the payment slip included instructions for making an electronic transfer. It told me the sort code and the account number that I needed and told me which of the numbers on the slip I should use as the payment reference. Armed with this information I opened up the First Direct web site and found the section for making a one-off payment.
There are two routes through this section of the site. If you have all of the details that you need you can enter them directly but there’s also another route where First Direct have gathered a number (hundreds, it seems) of common payment details so that you don’t need to fill in all the numbers. That sounded like the easiest route, so I went that way. I soon found myself looking at a long list of potential payees. The problem was that their names were a bit cryptic so I wasn’t sure which one I needed. There were two that seemed to be for paying personal tax bills which were called “InlandRevCumbSelfAssessment” and “InlandRevShipleySelfAssessment”. Now Shipley is a town in Yorkshire and my payslip said that my payment should be sent to Bradford which is also in Yorkshire and “Cumb” is short for Cumbernauld which is in Scotland. So I thought I knew which one to choose but I wasn’t 100% sure. And when you’re paying taxes, it’s best to be 100% sure that you’re paying the right people.
I selected the “InlandRevShipleySelfAssessment” in the hope that the next screen would confirm the sort code and account number that were associated with this payee. But in the interest of simplification, those potentially confusing details had been helpfully left off the screen.
At that point I decided that I would be happier taking the alternative route and typing all of the required details myself. So I went back to the first page and started again. This looked better. I was given a screen that asked for all the details that I had. I filled in the details and pressed the “proceed” button. I was asked to check and confirm the details which I did. And then on the next screen it went wrong. I was told that First Direct already had those details in their system and that therefore I had to use that option and couldn’t choose to type in the details myself. Of course there wasn’t any indication of which of the list of names I should choose or (which would have been better) a link to a page that was pre-filled with those details. No, I just had to go back to my original guessing game. I chose “InlandRevShipleySelfAssessment” and hoped that it was correct.
This morning, whilst running through the process again to ensure that this description was accurate, I discovered that “InlandRevShipleySelfAssessment” has been added to my list of previously used payees. And in the list it includes the sort code and account number. So I can confirm that my tax has been paid to the right place. Which is nice, but it was all a bit of a struggle.
Let’s review the problems:
- The list of known payees is badly organised. The symbolic names that they have been given aren’t very clear.
- When a known payee is selected, the next screen should contain the sort code and account number for the payee, so that a user can confirm that the correct selection has been made.
- When a user chooses to enter the details, then why not let them do that? What is the point of saying that you must use the list of known payees for a payee that is on the list.
- If you are going to insist on a user using the list of known payees, then you can at least make their life easier by telling them which of the known payees you are talking about.
I’ve always been a fan of First Direct. I’ve been with them ever since they started up and they’ve rarely done anything that has annoyed me. Even their internet banking service generally seems a lot better than most others I haveused. But in this case it seems that their interface designers were on holiday and this part of the site was designed by someone who had never given any thought to how someone might actually want to use it.
It should be illegal to design web site interfaces if you haven’t read Don’t Make Me Think (damn, I’ve just seen there’s a second edition out…)