Good UX / Bad Business

Not all user frustration can be solved by UX


Every company wants to build a superb user experience for their customers. I’ve participated in a number of kick-offs where everyone gathers and states unequivocally that the biggest priority for the site redesign is to create a exceptional, user-focused site that will delight customers. But after the kick-off and the hard work of define and design begins, we invariably fall short of this. We make a usable site, but it is not transformative. We build a site that meets our business needs, but the user experience is undercut by various trade-offs and other such decisions. The site does not provide a truly awesome user experience.

There is a reason for this:

UX is a reflection of the business rules. It cannot be separated from this.

Let’s look at an example where business rules and UX intersect. Picture a company’s ecommerce site. A business rule is created that requires a user be logged in to complete an online purchase. In other words, there is no guest checkout. The business rule would look something like this:

BR1: Only registered users can purchase.

How does this business rule impact the user experience? When a guest user arrives at the shopping cart — their product(s) already selected — they will attempt to invoke the “Checkout” button. They will then be informed that they must be logged in to proceed. This means logging in (if they have an account) or creating an account (if they don’t). Let’s look at what these two scenarios look like.

LOGIN TO CONTINUE

STEPS:

  1. INVOKE LOGIN BUTTON
  2. ENTER USERNAME
  3. ENTER PASSWORD
  4. INVOKE SUBMIT BUTTON

If the user remembers their login credentials, this will be a straightforward process. However it’s important to note that we are dealing exclusively with a pool of users who have created an account but have not logged in (meaning users who remember their account are not included). The reasons for not logging in can be several:

  • Forgot their login credentials
  • Forgot they had an account
  • Believed they were already logged in
  • Didn’t want to log in

In every case, being prompted to login is an interruption. The user must change focus from their current task (checkout) to a new task (login). However simple or painful the new task is, the user is blocked from accomplishing their goal (which, in simple terms could be described as: “giving your company money”).

This interruption can quickly become more painful if the user cannot remember their login credentials. This will mean requiring the user to complete another task (retrieve password) before they can complete the other new task (login), which they have to complete before they can return to their original task (checkout). However the “Retrieve password” workflow is designed (there are several approaches with varying degrees of frustration), it will likely require the user to wait for an email to arrive with either their password or a link to create a new password. the key word in the previous sentence is “wait.” Not exactly an optimal user experience.

Assuming the user is able to complete login — or first complete password retrieval and second complete login — they can then continue on to checkout.

CREATE AN ACCOUNT

  1. Invoke “Create an Account” button
  2. Complete registration form
  3. Invoke submit button
  4. Receive confirmation email
  5. Invoke validation link to complete registration
  6. Redirect to the shopping cart

The necessary steps for creating an account are a bit more complicated than those for login. Again, the user is diverted from their current task (checkout) to complete a new task (registration).

The registration process was likely not designed with the focus of getting users to checkout quickly. More likely it was designed with other priorities in mind. The focus would be on getting the user to provide enough information to build a more complete user profile (some profile questions may be optional, but are still included). Does the registration form require more information than email address and password? Are profiling/marketing questions included? These inclusions increase the amount of time it will take the user to complete registration. However long or short the form is, at some point the user will likely need to submit their registration and wait for a confirmation email When it arrives, this email will include a validation link to activate their account. This will then redirect them back to the site and prompt them to login (see the flow described above). Only then can the user navigate back to the shopping cart to continue on to checkout.


In both scenarios — LOGIN TO CONTINUE and CREATE AN ACCOUNT — the user is diverted from their primary task of completing their online purchase and forced into another flow before being allowed to proceed. These are frustrating experiences. While UX can alleviate some frustration — improve password recovery flow, optimize the registration process — it cannot eliminate user frustration. UX can’t provide the user with an optimal experience.

All of this is the unavoidable impact of a single business rule:

BR1: Only registered users can purchase.

There may be legitimate reasons for this rule (products are regulated) and there may be less-important reasons for this rule (profile information is wanted to improve marketing). Whatever the rationale behind the creation of a business rule — for good, bad, or necessary — one must understand that it will impact the user experience.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Ken Sigel’s story.