Please help me remember my password

Sign Up forms are awesome! The design of them are quite challenging, but when done correctly, they are a breeze to use. While most of them are smart by
- dynamically checking the username/ email existence in the database
- indicating password rules as you enter them
- indicating password strengths
- indicating mismatched password & re-password fields
- indicating captcha mistakes, etc.
Some can even exhibit intelligence by auto-correcting names, email addresses, etc.

Any interaction in Sign Up forms is generally given the most precise and helpful instruction towards successful completion.

Login screen seems neither loved nor lovely
Apparently, designers don’t seem to have noticed that, a Sign Up form on a page is mostly used once by a user. Whereas, the Login form is used over hundreds (email clients, social networks, banking sites) or even thousands (workstations etc) of times, over the application’s lifetime!

GMail — Incorrect password

Yet, such a critical form seems to have been rarely given any substantial usability improvement. Alternate logins using social networks, contextual links in errors (‘Register’ in unregistered username/email or ‘Recover Password’ in incorrect password entry), showing passwords on clicking on the ‘eye’ icon, are well and fine.

But the password field hasn’t gone beyond fancy red border animation and error pop-ups.

One password to rule them all! Well, almost.

Let me come out daringly about something. Despite being educated at India’s premier technology institutes, I use almost the same password for everything I interact on the internet. I know the risks of such a behavior, yet I primitively behave so. Right from simple CMS-based forums that save the password verbatim to the letter in the database, to the highly-encrypted secure passwords for credit card payment gateways, I use nearly the same password, the variant being dictated by the rules during the Sign Up phase.

And I believe, many of you do the same, sometimes despite your high technological intellect and awareness.

For example, few of the common rules for passwords in Sign Up and Password Setting forms found in our day-to-day activities on the web are
1. Minimum 6 – 15 characters
2. Minimum 8 characters with at least one number and alphanumeric
3. Minimum 8 characters with at least one number and one symbol (Only @, $, &, ! are allowed)
4. Minimum 8 characters with at least one number, one symbol and one uppercase alphabet

And, I use almost the same password for all of them! Yet whenever I face a Login form, I find it very difficult to remember the right one.
Same password, customized towards rules enforced

This is because, the application was smart, intelligent, inviting, helping and all guiding when I signed up for their service. It gave me all the clues, hints, help as I filled the form. But, when it came to login screens, all it did was to condescendingly display that my inability to remember the password variant I customized based on the rules displayed once upon a time.

This generally makes me to bury my frustration, once more, and press ‘Forgot Password’, as if I am the only one to blame.

Cost of a forgotten password

What happens when you forget a password?
- You go through a routine recovery password and set another password that you will soon forget
- You jump to read another article in some other news site
- You go through a long reset process probably losing the transaction
- You try to do what you can without logging in, and close once done
- What you ‘sniped’ with accurate timing cannot be purchased

Help me remember my password

Yes, help me! Even when I almost use only one password, help me to remember the right variant at the right time. Because most of the times it is frustrating, and costs me an extra 5 minutes to go through the password recovery process. But, sometimes, it becomes costly, in the form of a failed ticket sniping, which at times, hinders a journey, for me or for my loved ones, or a failed transaction of a substantial sum that gets stuck in a financial limbo etc.

All you have to do is, to tell me, what rule I followed when setting the password up!

How?

For now, I can think of three different ways it can be done.
1. Placeholder in the input field itself.
- Will work only of the size of field and instruction can be worked together.
2. Message display outside the input field.
- This can be on any side of the field (top, bottom, left, right).
- Long messages can be wrapped easily.
- The display can be controlled dynamically based on the user’s interaction.
3. Tooltips.
- This is always a classic measure, hence not very difficult to explain.
- Substantial size of instruction can be plugged in.
- Additional user interaction is required though
- Difficult and not intuitive for keyboard-only users
- Mess up consistency if tooltips aren’t used in the rest of the application

Top three variants of showing contextual help for remembering the password

Before you jump to your code editor

Although it may appear to be a simple improvement, there are quite a few issues that have to be planned before jumping to implement it.
1. Word size of help text. Optimize between size and clarity
2. Position and visibility of the help text. Optimize between interference and attention.

Very important note!

Most importantly, your password is no more an independent entity. It is now a combination of a)version and b) value. And the interface, has to either force the user to constantly update his password according to the rules of the latest version, or, adjust the help message based on the version used by the username/ email in the input field above it!

Happy Remembering Folks!
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