Usability and Trust

January 12, 2008

Topics: Usability, Web Development.

Without both, it’s very difficult to have a successful online business. Unusable web sites have an incredible ability to generate a lack of trust in the business — as soon as one feature fails to work correctly, or doesn’t behave as you expect, there’s an immediate connection made:

“If they can’t get this right, what else might they have problems with?”

Will they lose your financial data? Will they ship you the right product? Will they bill you the right amount of shipping? What are they going to do with your private information?

It’s hard to fully trust a website which gets in your way when you’re trying to perform basic tasks. The above questions may come up as reactions to pretty severe site problems, such as incorrect product data or frightening error messages, such as this one:

Okay, I've gone to read my mail 2x and gotten a frightening red box that says: You cannot do that. This action is being recorded.

“You cannot do that. This action is being recorded.”

Yikes! Not really an ideal situation. Now, having written error messages before, I can imagine what was meant, which might be better stated like this:

“You may not perform that action. We have logged the error and will work to take care of any problems!”

There are a couple of important differences between those statements.

First, there’s the tense of the statement: we are currently recording vs. we have recorded. The first leaves an ongoing implication that your actions are being monitored which may be a bit disturbing.

Second, we have the indication of what has been recorded. In the first case, it sounds like the system is recording your actions. The second message clearly states that the information recorded was the error which occurred, and assures you that the problem will be worked on.

Maintaining trust in your application depends on good data, clear and non-threatening error messages, and clear task pathways. If your task paths aren’t clear, you may lose users due to sheer confusion. If you aren’t checking your data and perfecting your error messages (and all other responses, of course!) you may lose the visitors trust that you’ve really got their needs in mind.

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2 Comments to “Usability and Trust”

  1. Usability issues with “big name” websites are probably the greater problem, since they’re more likely to be depended on. 10 years ago, poor usability with something like Yahoo! Mail was something you’d just live with — there weren’t a lot of options. Now, although you may be incredibly frustrated by usability issues, you’ve also put 10 years into building your address book, email history, etc., and there’s likely to be a great resistance to change.

    But when looking for a site to accomplish something new, or to get information? Yeah. No patience at all. Why should I struggle with About.com when I can go to Wikipedia?

  2. You are correct, Joe. There are simply too many websites and too many choices for the visitor to stand for much in the way of difficulty or inaccessibility.

    Personally, when I visit a site and something gets in the way or doesn’t function correctly, I move on quickly. The truth is I am not usually in a particular hurry, or pressed for time, but there’s just not much sense in dealing with sites that are troublesome. The world is a big place and odds are I can find a site that satisifies what I am looking for and *is not* troublesome or inaccessible.