User experience as an organization’s image

Tags: offtopic, ux, fail

Just a few days ago, I was at a site (that shall remain unnamed) to try out a few things. The experience got me thinking how a bad user experience can negate all the good visual design a site might have.

The whole thing started when I noticed that picture uploads were not working. (The upload was obviously successful, but the picture failed to show up on my profile, so something was clearly broken.) Since I didn’t actually care about the picture, I thought I’d just send them a quick message telling them of the problem, and perhaps the problem would then be fixed later.

I filled in a feedback form (which by no means was easy to fill in — it was not obvious which department I should direct my feedback to) and the next day I noticed a bounced email: The form used an email address that the site’s own backend deemed to be non-existent.

So I was thinking, “Their own feedback form isn’t working. I should report this problem to them.” But how? Since they are on Twitter too, I tried tweeting them.

I got no reply to my tweet: Apparently they don’t actually monitor their own Twitter feed.

This would be the end — at least for now — of my attempt to contact them to report bugs on their own web site. I don’t think I’ll go so far as trying again to contact them through Facebook.

Other strange experiences

The other thing I was trying to do, other than the picture upload, was a search. Don’t ask me why, but I tried searching for someone that I just knew was on the site. Yet I only found her after fumbling with search options for maybe 15–20 minutes.

Let me just say I knew they have good back-end coders and HCI experts so I was expecting a search interface that not only was functional but also intuitive to use (for some reasonable definition of intuitive). On the contrary, not only did it not quite work, the way it behaved was also counter-intuitive.

One final puzzling thing that I later found out was an apparently-personalized link that fails to give you the expected personalized content. From the context, anyone would assume that the purpose of that link would be for you to share it to some other person so that the other person could verify your membership on that site. So I was shocked when I found out later that the link would produce an error if I was not logged in, and if I entered someone else’s link while I was logged in I would see my own information instead of the other person’s.

Perhaps the intent of that little link was never for sharing with other people, but I thought if that were the case it was never made clear. It just seemed wrong to me that they would give people the impression that the link could be shared when in fact it was not.

In closing

So what did this whole experience tell me? I think maybe it told me that details are important — not in the sense that everything has to be (visually or otherwise) perfect, but that everything that the user has a reasonable expectation that it works should at least work and in the way it is expected to work. It told me that bad user experience will negate whatever good a good visual design would have done.

I am guilty myself of not making sure that sites I make do have all the little details ironed out, and I doubt I am even capable of ironing out all these little details. So I’m not here to blame anyone, but I hope I’ll keep this little bad experience in mind which will hopefully serve as a reminder as to what I need to avoid.