How I enjoy creating yet another online profile

forgot_passwdYes, that title is meant ironically. More or less anything you want to do online these days, any service you want to use, any network you want to join, comes with the requirement to create a personal profile. This is particularly true if whatever you want to get hold of is free (actually meaning: “you can have this without having to pay for it, if we can have your personal data” – as I discussed in a previous post), or can access your personal data or your money.

In the latter case, I obviously agree that it is a good idea to have some barriers set up to prevent others than myself to access my valuables. And I also agree that the minimum requirement for those barriers is identifying me as the person trying to log in – which logically leads to a need for me to provide some info to allow aforementioned identification. But it looks like there is some secret pact among the choice architects who are in charge of designing the procedures and the webforms for creating online profiles, whereby they want to make the user experience (UX) as tough as possible. Here are my arguments to back that claim:

  1. The only constraint on the number of fields on the form (and especially the number of mandatory fields) seems to be the memory of the average computer or mobile device. I imagine the reasoning to be something like: “if we add this one extra field, the webpage might be so big that it would no longer load on a lot of devices” (#bigdata).
  2. When you’ve entered all the data requested – a milestone that typically happens on day 5 of the expedition – and click Next, the screen invariably freezes. In the best case scenario you realize after a while that you can still scroll up again and somehow get aware that something seems a bit different in the layout of the screen. Carefull scrunity will reveal in the end that one of the fields now has a message ‘Invalid telephone number’ next to it. To avoid that you might by now be thinking that I can’t say anything positive on this subject: sometimes this message is relatively easy to spot as it is marked in a different colour, sometimes even in a colour signaling “something is wrong here”, like red. But invariably in a font size that is extremely close to illegible.
  3. If you’re going to use the word invalid, you have to be aware that validity depends on certain criteria – and that it could perhaps be helpful to give some hints on what those criteria are: just tell me what you consider to be valid telephone number! But no, the train of thoughts will have included: “why bother, after all, how many different ways can there be to enter a telephone number?”. Let me tell you: an absolutely astonishing amount of ways!
  4. After having figured out the valid format, and after having clicked Next a second time, the screen freezes again. Fortunately you now have the previous experience to rely on, so you scroll up quickly, only to discover that now not 1 but 3 fields have an error message! In all three cases the message is: “Fields marked with * must be filled”. Turns out that some fields that you had filled in the first attempt were simply cleared during your second attempt.
  5. Passwords. How could I not address the topic of passwords? There are some excellent methods, based on a well-defined logic, for choosing a safe password (like the one described in this article), but some online forms impose rules on the password format that are so strict that the use of those methods is simply impossible. In my case, especially the requirement that the password need to have a fixed number of characters (typically 6 or 8 – obviously never 7… you just might start to feel a bit lucky, and that needs to be avoided at all cost) is interfering with the password-method I personally use (a separate problem with this specific restriction is the fact that password length is quite an important factor in the security level of a password). Needless to say that the login screens where you will land during your next visits in no shape or form hint to the restrictions imposed during the setting up of the account. No wonder the ‘Forgot password’ button has by far the highest click rate on loads of login pages.
  6. As your adrenaline level has unavoidably risen considerably during the consecutive attempts to provide the data points requested, you start typing faster with each new attempt (especially in the field where you have to repeat your email address, whereby copy/paste simply does not work), thus making typing errors, leading to more form errors (and fields being cleared in between attempts). Classic example for a vicious circle. I did not find any statistics on any deaths caused by heart attacks triggered by this (the summary of one article looked promising, but to access the full article I would have needed to create an account), but I would not be surprised to find out that there have been already – death by UX failure.

I rest my case.

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