Stuck users

Getting user experience design right is all about getting user flows right.

The first question when it comes to optimizing flows is asking – how would a user make it from one end of the process to the other? This is important because every added step or inconsistency results in drop offs.

An oft-overlooked second question is – where do users get stuck? Or, put differently – where are user dead ends?

User dead ends typically happen due to two reasons –

  1. No “escape” button
  2. Poor error notifications

No “escape” Button

The early version of Windows got the “escape” button idea right. If you weren’t used to computers, you had a way out of whatever hole you had dug yourself into. Apple did this well in their first decade with the iPhone. You were never stuck on an iPhone because the button always offered you a way out.

The lack of an escape button is all too common in customer service processes. For example, I keep getting stuck at this screen when trying to get to the results of a case dispute I filed with Equifax. The only escape here is “Please try again later” because there is no easy link to contact them directly.

Poor error notifications

The first iterations of Windows were legendary for poor error notifications. An error on Windows might say something like – “X000snjksfn9843940 – Bad command.”

Of course, this meant nothing to a user. Luckily, Google searches and forums helped solve these problems. But, if you weren’t internet search literate back then, you were in trouble.

I experienced a version of this issue today thanks to our HP Laserjet printer. It is cliche to say you are troubleshooting printer issues at your parents’ place. But, that is exactly what I was doing. The error, it turned out, was, well, “Error – Printing.”

That’s helpful.

We solved the issue by unplugging and re-plugging the printer. While it amazing how many problems that solves, an error notification that says nothing is a recipe for stuck users.