The Web needs Improvement
Recently, I had a few experiences that shocked me. I wanted to accomplish some small tasks on several websites. And I struggled with all of them. I can confidently say I wasn't the problem, but the websites were. And the worst of it was no valuable error feedback for the user!
Let's dive right into it. Here are the three tasks I wanted to accomplish:
- ☑️ Change my address on a payment platform
- ☑️ Change my invoice delivery method on a mobile provider's website
- ☑️ Change my Email address on a mobile provider's website
Let's start with the first one.
Changing my address on websites
I had a little "housekeeping" to do a few days ago. The first thing I wanted to do, was to change my address on a famous payment platform. So I headed to the website, logged in, navigated to my profile, and added my new address details. After clicking save, I got the feedback that the address had changed successfully. But after heading back to my profile, it was still the old one.
I tried it again a few times, even changing browsers and devices, but I also had no success there. So finally, I was confused and annoyed and moved on to something else.
Don't send me receipts on paper, please
Next up on my list was that I wanted to change how I get my invoices from my mobile provider. By default, they send them printed out to my mailbox, and I don't need that. I'd be delighted to get them online in my account.
I tried to accomplish that by opening the native app. It even prompted me to make this change, so I navigated to the menu item. It then opened an in-app browser, tried logging me in on the mobile providers' website, and showed an endless spinner. That's it. Great!
Of course, I tried again but couldn't get it to work. No user feedback at all about what I can do differently or where the problem stems from. I ditched the native app and did it on the website directly. I logged in and navigated to the menu item. It navigated me to another page showing an empty orange box. Awesome!
So far, two basic tasks on a website have been unsuccessful. But I had to do another. I wanted to change my Email address on the website of my mobile provider. Easy task, right? I navigated to my profile, headed to the section where you can change your Email, and entered my new one. Guess what happened after clicking on save? Yes, you're right. Nothing!
The web is not accessible
I don't want to turn this blog post into a big rant. That's not my goal or primary focus in writing about these experiences.
I also don't want to bash developers or product teams responsible for this. Bugs happen. Humans write harmful software all the time.
But I'm still astonished that simple processes like this don't work. And they're also not showing any helpful user feedback or error messages. And I can imagine these are tasks that many users want to accomplish daily.
I'm a person with a technical background. I know I didn't do anything wrong, and it's the website's fault that I can't accomplish my goal. But think about other people who are not tech-savvy. They are just confused and angry and search for the fault in themselves. That's bad.
It's disappointing that many websites out there are still in bad condition. It's not everyones focus to make their website as accessible as possible. The web is not accessible at all. And this needs to change.
There are still so many anti-patterns, from popups to cookie banner madness to newsletter signups covering the whole page.
AI will not come to the rescue
It's disappointing to know that a lot of websites are still bad. I'm sure the workflows described above are not the most critical. But that does not make them less relevant to users.
It's disappointing that in 2023, that these bad experiences even happen on pages with millions of customers.
And I can confidently say that AI will not help with these cases. It's awesome that something like ChatGPT exists. It can help with a lot of tasks already. But it can't solve the problem that many websites are in bad shape.
On the other hand, I will not lose my job soon because there is still so much work to do to make the web a better, more user-friendly, and more accessible place.
Helpful Error messages
Here are two things you can do right away if you have workflows on your website that your users have problems with. First and most important: give your users valuable and actual error messages. Just showing a yellow error box is not helpful.
The Nielsen Normal group has a fantastic article about error message guidelines: Error Message Guidelines ↗.
And second, have a channel open for your users to communicate feedback and report bugs. Always keep communication available to your users. When I wanted to talk to someone about this problem, I discovered I couldn't find a possible way to communicate my findings in any manner. This was the most annoying thing about it.
So if we look back at the beginning of this article, and recap the tasks, I wanted to accomplish, it looks like this:
- ❌ Change my address on a payment platform
- ❌ Change my invoice delivery method on a mobile provider's website
- ❌ Change my Email address on a mobile provider's website
Our Job is to make the web better. And we need to do better.
I hope you enjoyed this post and learned something new. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter ↗ or via Email ↗.
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I wish you a wonderful day! Marco