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Thanks for not listening!

I should have known better.

I recently received an email from a government website that I have used for purchasing savings bonds for my nieces and nephews. I guess I should say I used it once. After that first time, I realized it wasn't worth the hassle.Let me tell you why:

  • Instead of using an user name that I could choose, it assigned me a 10 digit letter/number account #.
  • The password had to be quite lengthy and include both numbers and letters.
  • I can't type the password into the site. Instead, I have to use a virtual keyboard which displays the keys in a random order. So, I have to click on each letter in the password with my mouse after finding them on the virtual keyboard. Ugh.
  • As it turns out, the recipients of my savings bond gifts have to also use the site in order to get at their savings bond. There is no way for me to ask for the bond to simply be mailed to them. This was the #1 killer for me - I might have been willing to put up with this crappy site, but I certainly wasn't going to make my family members suffer through it!

There are lots of other ugly aspects to the site, but those were the most immediately frustrating. So, I stopped using it. Then last week I got an email from the site telling me that I could expect some snail mail from them. Apparently, they are adding in some kind of additional security feature that involves an access card.

Of course, since I'm insane, I tried to send them an email suggesting that they were making the site impossible to use with all this security. (Doing this was an additional hassle, as their contact form limited the # of characters I could input, but didn't tell me what the limit was or how many characters I was over. Thanks!) They promptly replied that all this security was for my protection..

I explained to them (again) that as a web application developer I understood their concerns, but that they were making the site completely unusable for most people, and that this should be an additional consideration. Of course, they just replied again trying to tell me how wonderful all this security is, especially telling me why the virtual keyboard makes things more secure. If they had read my email, they would have realized that I understood that the virtual keyboard increased security - I just didn't agree that the pain was worth the increase.

I don't know why I bothered. An organization who implemented this feature and left it there for more than a year clearly doesn't care about usability (or accessibility!) But there are bigger lessons for us all in this:

  • Do usability testing! What seems like a good idea at the time may ultimately turn your users off.
  • Create a better feedback loop. Just repeating the company mantra isn't helpful to users. Tell them you'll consider their feedback - don't just act like they don't "get" how swell your software is.

I guess I'll go back to standing in line at the bank!

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Avonelle is a rare IT professional who can communicate with business users on a level they can understand, and who can recommend creative technical solutions that are in line with the business goals and the business budget. Avonelle is conscientious not only about meeting deadlines, but also exceeding her customers expectations around quality software while providing superior customer service. Avonelle is an inspiration to me.

Valerie Vogt, Director of IT Advisory Services @ Inetium