In UX, as in life, the small things matter

Small cues matter in UX

You find a great deal on a pair of headphones online, and begin the checkout process. As you’re about to click “Buy” you notice that you mis-typed the shipping address. You search around the page to find a way to edit the address. No pencil. No “edit.”

You discover there’s no easy way to quickly make a change, so you do what so many other web users do when they’re stuck. You hit “back.” Then, you realize you’ve lost everything. You’re staring at the site’s home page, with an item in your cart, and none of your address or credit card information saved.

Are you going to go through the process of buying those earphones now? The retailer better hope it’s a really good deal, because some shoppers will likely be so frustrated that they’ll drive to Best Buy instead.

When that shopping site was created, a team of designers, developers, product representatives, marketing gurus and project managers worked months, maybe even years, to launch their new platform.

So how did such a thing get overlooked? The simple answer is: nobody thought about the end-to-end user experience, or put their UI through enough tests, to catch such a big problem.

In the usability world, this is considered a violation of a heuristic called “error prevention.” In any system, certainly one as complex as an e-commerce platform, it’s a best practice to give users the ability to recognize when an error has been made, and to give them every opportunity to correct it without forcing them to re-do all their work.

It’s a lesson Amazon learned early on. You can see from the checkout screen above, they give you many clear options to change your billing and shipping choices before purchasing. And even after you’ve made a purchase, the site gives you yet another opportunity to correct a mistake.

In the run-up to launching our fictional shopping site above, those teams made a lot of difficult choices. Meetings were had about colors and fonts, how many different kinds of headphones to sell and when to give away 10% off coupons. The product owners also had to balance budgets, decide how to position their site against the competition, and how best to market their new endeavor. It’s understandable that a simple thing like letting somebody edit their shipping address before they click “Buy” could slip through the cracks.

But that mistake cost them customers. And a trained usability professional would have caught it early in the development or testing process, before the site went live.

When we’re talking about potentially millions of dollars in sales and market share on the line, bringing in a good usability team, and spending the extra development time to add that pencil or “change” button doesn’t seem like a difficult choice, after all.