Monday, December 16, 2013

Design tips are great, but let's make sure they are useful.

This is a great tips article – the author lists 15 UX elements that he likes.  Except that we know n=1 studies are notoriously flawed.  What we like is often not what is best for the typical user, or even the web site’s most valuable customers.  So I thought I would go one by one and see if I could think of a scientific, statistical, or logical explanation that might make the element a more generally applicable design guideline. I will divide this into multiple posts each talking about just one or two of them so this doesn’t become too long.

All-caps Autocorrect:  We still see people typing in all-caps, despite the very strong reasons why it is not a good idea.  In some cases, the person either hasn’t got a clue or really does want to seem like they are shouting.  But sometimes, when you type something that is really short (a Tweet, a comment on a post, a quick email), you just don’t realize that the caps are on.  You hit before realizing it, or you are just too lazy to type it again so you hit anyway.

In its comments function, Flickr will automatically convert a comment to lowercase for you.  Since they default to converting it, they are assuming that the all-caps was an accident.  They could also be hinting that you don’t want to use all-caps even if you did it on purpose.

Whether this is a good idea depends both on UX and on etiquette.  From an etiquette point of view, their design makes sense.  It is seen as impolite to do the all caps thing, so they are making it just hard enough to use all-caps that maybe a lot of people who might be using them on purpose will change their mind or be too lazy to insist. They are not forcing the issue, just using smart defaults and a paternalistic nudge.

From a UX point of view, they would need to have some data.  How many people wanted to use caps?  How many did it by accident?   How many people are happy with the etiquette advice and glad to switch?  How many are insulted by the implication and now have to switch it back?  Based on all of these use cases, they can tally up the aggregate impact on customer value and decide based on that. 

So now comes the question of whether Flickr's design should be used as a commonly applicable guideline.  For another company to decide if it applies to them, they should consider these same two decision criteria.  If their brand is a high-quality, high-touch, experiential narrative, they should promote good etiquette even if the short term impact on customer value is negative. The long term value will make up for it.

If not, then they should focus on the short term value equation.  An intercept study could be insightful here. For each user who gets auto-corrected, a pop-up (with a clear value proposition of its own and with an immediate cancel option) with two quick questions: Did you originally intend to use all-caps (Y/N)?  Why did you accept/not accept the auto-correct (5 or so checkbox options).  A side benefit of the study might be that people who never appreciated their bad all-caps habit get a more visceral hint that they are being rude.