A basic usability test (very cheap also) is logging remote on another person’s computer and watching him/her use the app/website/tool. It’s eye opening.
So I have seen my mother (who is not a computer savy person) hovering the page in search of buttons. When she searches things she doesn’t use the keyboard, she presses the “Search” button, and when that’s not available she gets confused. If the search field has an arrow image background on the right side, she tries to click that arrow and gets puzzled when nothing happens.
So, please use search buttons.
Oh, and please don’t name them “Go” or “>>” or stuff like that, name them “search”, and even put a magnifying glass on them.
A login account sounds simple but it’s not. I’ve been watching Google Account login form for a while and saw the changes they made over time. A login form has to accomplish several things:
- get the registered clients into the system fast
- make unregistered users to register
- convert a visitor into a user
- provide a way to recover an account
In time, the priority of those things changes, ie: at the beginning of a startup you want more new users, the register process must be the first thing a visitor sees in the page, after a while and a solid client base you want those clients to login fast and without issues.
Let’s see some of Google’s login forms now:
Size of the font and spacing changed for better focus on the link.
Here come the blue buttons. Call to action all the way. Unfortunately, I personally had problems logging in, I pressed the “new account” button instead of “login” multiple times. Wasn’t very happy with those. The naming on the button changed a lot, “get started”, “pick a name” or simply “new account”
The next one is the one i can see today on my browser, it really doesn’t have a actual call-to-action button, just a size priority. It’s better.
Note: I’m more than sure it depends on the OS/BROWSER/GOOGLE SERVICE etc.
Let’s face it! People use the same passwords on every site where they need an account. More exactly their email and computer login password You’ll be amazed how many of the users have only one password. It’s a bad thing but that’s how it is.
A while ago a friend of mine wrote on his blog about sites which demand a certain number of chars, demand to use both numbers and letters and even one of the weird signs on the number keys. Putting a maximum limit on the number of chars is plain stupid.
Please! don’t make users come up with a different password than they already use. Chances are they already use a password with more than 6 chars (due to restrictions allover the place). If you make the user invent a password with #$%^, he’s going to forget it. Then, he would have to recover/reset it – things that generates errors and frustration.
I don’t really care. I don’t care because users don’t care.
Let’s get things a little further, what’s a button? Does it have to have borders? Different color?
Is a icon followed by a link really a link or a button? I see those things like buttons, others see it like “fancy links” or “descriptive links” or “visual links”.
One thing i agree with, though: forms should have “hard to miss” primary action button, you cannot put a link there mainly because it will not be a “primary action”, there are other links on a page so the weight of a “submit link” won’t be so different.
Since the AJAX and web 2.0 madness a new edit option appeared on the web (used for many years in desktop software though): “edit in place” or “inline editing”. It’s basically used to edit a thing and one thing only, a “one field form” if you like.
It’s not for computer naive users and it’s better to avoid it for simple applications if it’s not really obvious how to use it.
There are two distinct parts of this action: triggering the apparition of the field and the submitting of the action.
Triggering the field can be done in a few ways:
- holding the mouse cursor on the text to be edited (the same as the desktop way) – simple but not obvious, you can’t know about this feature without reading the help or a proper training. (For example see the IPB (invision power board)). I don’t recommend this method for the web, it’s not intuitive enough.
- clicking the text – hovering the text, the background of the text becomes yellow – a convention that nowadays seems to mean “click me, something will happen”. Used by Yahoo, Google, WordPress etc it’s a convention that is becoming a standard. Though it’s better than the previous one, it can be done better.
- right click on element shows a menu with edit/rename option. Again, the user is not used to right click on things on the web, maybe on pictures to download them but that’s about it. Cool but not usable enough. See the Google Docs example:
- just showing an edit button is the best solution i ever saw, straight forward. If the aesthetics don’t allow that, show the edit button/link only when hovering, but keep the yellow background on the text all the time. WordPress admin does a good job with the post slug editing:
The field must appear in the same place the text is before triggering the edit. Jenifer Tidwell says in her book “Designing Interfaces” that the field must be set only as a border on the text to be edited, the position/font/color of the text should not be changed. Although it’s a very good point, it’s hardly possible to achieve this technically when working with dynamic text and user generated content.
Some people choose to select all the text inside (like in windows explorer) to make the text replacing faster, but it’s very easy to delete the text and many users won’t know how to recover from this (it’s important that on click outside the field the action is canceled and the initial text restored).
Submitting the form is easy, either you insert a “save” button, or let the user hit “enter” (IPB for example). I prefer and recommend the first one, but make sure it works with “enter” too. A very good idea is to provide a “Cancel” button, it gives the user self confidence.
I was reading an article on Useful Usability and opened all 15 links to save the PDF files on my computer. I don’t have the time to read them now but i hope to find some in the near future. (It’s basically like writing things on a CD, you’ll never insert that in the optical unit ever again ).
Anyway, I saved almost all of them in a directory on my computer. Looking at them later I realized many of them have names which don’t say anything about the content of the file, one of them is named “johnny.pdf”. The title of that particular article/study is “Why Johnny Can’t Encrypt: A Usability Evaluation of PGP 5.0″. While “johnny” is part of the title, left alone it doesn’t say anything about the usability evaluation in the file.
When dealing with files on the web, name them according to the content. You don’t know where they may end up, you want exposure after all, help that exposure with a content descriptive name.
Another important reason: SEO. It’s one thing when Google Bot crawls a picture of a blue book named “blue_book.jpg”, and another when it crawls “ds7d6s9ad99s9s76d6s.jpg”. Your picture will end up higher on the Google Images Index and generate you more traffic.
The main reason though, has to be the user. To a human being “ds7d6s9ad99s9s76d6s” doesn’t say anything about the content, “blue_book” does.
Developer note: For huge applications dealing with many files it’s quite hard to avoid duplicates (that’s why developers use hash strings like “ds7d6s9ad99s9s76d6s”), take flickr.com for example, all their image names look like that. For the rest of the applications developers can use some kind of hybrid naming like “blue_book_7d7s8767.jpg”. It’s much better than to use only the hash string.
We discussed the other day about the login with email vs. username and I came to the conclusion that it depends on the type of the application, if it’s social, you’ll want username, if not, it’s better to only ask for the email.
Today we’ll take a look at login forms as a whole. We’ll see the good practices, the “dos” and “donts” with examples from a few major sites on the internet. I’m not saying there’s a right formula for all the sites but there are some things that need to be on every one of those login forms.
So, let’s cut the crap and get this going (because some of you only look at pictures and read bold text, and i know that).
Amazon.com get’s it simple. Two fields, a button and a “forgot password” link. That is all there is mandatory on a login form and that is what the guys at amazon put there, no more, no less. Authentication is made by email and password.
The next example is from cnet.com. They have a few more options: a register/join link (if you don’t have an account), a remember me checkbox and a feature i started to see on many websites, connect with facebook. I didn’t try but i guess you can use your facebook account which is great.
Digg adopts a different way to show the form, a modal window. I personally hate modals, i think they require useless clicks. They have also a “create new account” as an alternative and offer a recover username option. Looks nice and clean.
Ebay.com has 4 links in the login form, a bit too much if you ask me. They also have a “keep me signed in for today” option and some advices to avoid others entering your account or phishing attacks. They have a history there, it’s normal.
Elance.com adds a radio button option because there are 2 types of accounts, there is one checked by default so it’s quite ok. There is a locked icon with no title on the link so a user does not know what it does until it clicks. Does it lock your account?
Facebook login is also simple: remember me, forgot password and login. I think they could do better than a blue button on a blue background.
Google accounts it’s also quite simple, they have a “remember me on this computer” checkbox, a “create account” alternative and a rather unusual link for password recovery named “i cannot access my account“. I think the title is quite natural.
IMDB has the ugliest login form i have ever seen, no CSS whatsoever, but, it gets the job done, i think. IMDB also lets you login with either username or email. Interesting, they let the user choose, or they switched a while back from username to email and that’s how they support the old accounts.
Live.com (msn, hotmail etc) has some rather confusing login: they ask for a “live ID” and give an email as a example (if it weren’t for the example the users were doomed) and two “remember me” options: one for this computer and one for the password. This cant be good for a naive user. They also have a link for “using advanced security” whatever that is.
Myspace has a really nice idea for offering an alternative to login, they made two tabs with login and signup, the login is the default (used more). I like it. Also like the contrast of the login button, well done.
Newegg is hustling as little the customers, it offers a “subscribe” checkbox on login, that can be frustrating when you log in often. They also offer the option to create a new account and they describe a little the benefits of doing that. I dont like the fact the buttons have the same weight. Which is more important, the login or the signin?
NYTimes.com moves the focus on new members (see the background, position, colors), i guess we know who’s more important for them. I don’t say it’s wrong, growing the userbase is the most important thing for a content website, so they act like it.
Twitter has a pretty weird login if you ask me, it has a confusing name (“sign in”) which sounds a lot like “sign up” and it has a big red “watch a video” button. C’mooon, if I have a twitter account I kind of know what it does, don’t I?
WordPress has a nice simple form, and they have a tooltip with “This is a secure form” on the damn icon. Nicely done. They don’t offer a register alternative in the form but there’s no need, there’s a HUGE blue “sign up” button on the page.
Wallstreet Journal has a sliding form when you click login, nice and very space saving… buuut…. when you click login and the form slides down, it disables the register link, so you’ll have to wait until it slides back up or you click login again to toggle the form.
Yahoo dealt with so much problems in the past (account stealing, phishing etc) that they made up a “seal” system to protect you, you upload a picture which will be saved and will set a cookie on your browser so when you come back to login you’ll see the picture and know it’s not a phishing site. I dont know how many people actually use this, I don’t.
- keep it simple, the more options you add, the more confused your users will be
- I strongly suggest you keep a login form on every page of your website, if the site requires users to login often. One click away forms are … one click away.
- the button must be a button, a “call to action”, use colors, contrast, spacing
- make sure the form can be used from the keyboard and submitted with Enter
- password recovery option is mandatory
- offer a register alternative for users who don’t have accounts
- make it visible, look at the ebay page below, it took me a while to find the link with all teh red things there. I’m not saying the user will leave without finding it, but it grows in frustration, and there is a limit for that.