UI anti-pattern: the unwanted defaults

Online forms have the capacity to be one of the most frustrating user interfaces to use. From not disclosing mandatory fields to clearing all your inputs after you’ve made one mistake, these frustrations lead to the form taking longer to fill out than it should.

A design patterns employed to cut down form completion time is to pre-populate fields where possible. One example is where upon entering your postcode, a well designed form will pre-populate the suburb field for you.

However, this useful pattern has given rise to a very annoying anti-pattern: the unwanted default. E-commerce websites in particular are guilty of employing this ant-pattern in the hope of coaxing their customers into buying product or service add-ons which they did not set out to buy, effectively modifying the users’ end goal.

In some cases, this attempt at grabbing extra sales is obvious and becomes simply annoying; you spot the unwanted items, remove them and move on. A good example is my favorite online photography store which, when I was buying a $2118 camera, assumed by default that I would also like to spend $5931 on extras. Thanks, but no thanks.

A few ‘subtle’ extras

Others employ this anti-pattern more stealthily; budget airlines often tend to bury extra insurance charges amongst their many terms and conditions. Often, this leads to one of two outcomes:

  1. brand damage: the user does not find out about the extra item until after they have been charged
  2. extra time to complete the form: the user has to correct the form, after completing it the first time

When designing online forms, think about the users’ end goal and help them achieve it as effortlessly as possible. Online forms are not a medium for marketing or ad-hoc revenue generation. Nonsensical defaults only create frustration leading to eventual brand damage.

Migrating my old blog to Medium — originally published 12 Nov 2013

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