Focusing on Improving the Experience of the User: Do as We Say, Not as We Do

Over the past half decade the shift in popular business thinking have been more user and customer focused than ever before.

Designing immersive, engaging and useful experiences for a user acts as the ‘rising tide lifts all ships’ in solving problems when developing products for public use.

After using the myMyki website this past weekend to register my public transport smart card (myki), I was introduced to a frustrating experience of what should be a simple task.

Understanding the elements of User Experience Design

There are many aspects to user experience design out there and there is great literature on the subject.

The website is one of the best resources on the subject matter. It defines user experience into seven core elements within the User Experience Honeycomb.

  • Useful: Content satiates the user’s need or intent.
  • Usable: The website is easy and simple to use.
  • Desirable: Users are delighted, immersed or engaged when interacting with content.
  • Findable: Easy to navigate content – both online and off.
  • Accessible: Content is accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Credible: User trust and believe the content they are consuming.

If designing the user experience for purpose, we would look at what ideas influence the user experience of a web product.

This could be placed into four separate quadrants:

  • Design Led, Designer Focused: Top-Down design, fixed specifications. Best used for ‘best practices’ or obvious design goals such as making a website faster. This type of design places value on the business case of a web product.
  • Design Led, User Focused: Designing with users in mind – more empathetic design goals are formulated to solve specific user problems.
  • User Led, Design Focused: Involves high-touch involvement with end-users, such as face-to-face interviews, surveys and observational analysis of user analytics (with behaviour patterns).
  • User Led, User-Focused: Users working their way around the web product to satisfy a need or to achieve a goal. Often involves user ‘hacks’ – i.e. The initial Twitter Hashtag – or user feedback expresses a need.

The meat of most User Experience design occurs during steps two and three in the process – step one may subjects satisfying a need users never had whilst step four showcases an oversight with a website’s functionality and capability.

Bad UX is a betrayal of trust is a utility website from designed to serve the following purposes for Victorian Public Transport Users:

  • Register a myki card online
  • View previous usage statements (for up to 6 months)
  • Pay (‘Top-up’) your myki online
  • Access to documents regarding refund and reimbursement
  • Replace Damaged, Lost or Stolen Myki
  • Contact myki

For my use of the website, I only needed to achieve two goals:

  • Register my myki card online
  • Review past usage statements

This began a sequence of tweets on a twitter rant in which I expressed my distaste of the web experience.

Using Dark UX patterns for marketing communications

Dark Patterns are usability patterns designed to trick or misdirect the user into performing an action, most likely commercial in nature.

In the above example, the user has to opt-in in order to opt-out of receiving unsolicited marketing communication from Public Transport Victoria.

This is disgraceful from a Government Operated agency.

Credibility is one of the seven key factors of user experience design. By taking advantage of an authoritative status with official purpose in order to capture a larger email list is deceptive and unethical.

Leaving a checkbox unchecked does not equivalent to consent – not here or any other universe.


A website should be secure

The above example is a major security liability on the part of the mymyki website.

Security Questions are considered bad practice in modern day information security initiatives.

Bruce Scheider wrote an opinionated essay on the subject and many security providers recommend to answer security questions randomly as opposed to the suggested answer.

But that isn’t the flaw in the sign-up process.

There are only two options available for the security questions: the name of your first school name and the your mother’s maiden name.

Ignoring the massive security liability in which these details are easily accessible via public records, this fails to serve to user because it is limited in scope and not memorable.

If you have no mother and have never attended a school, it is impossible for you to earnestly complete this form. These are not qualifying factors for using public transport – here or anywhere.

This fails both the Credibility, Usefulness and Desirability of the user experience – users don’t like performing chores and this adds an additional taxing task to the process.

The website does indeed have a HTTPS connection, so at least that legal requirement has been fulfilled.

Failing to get your records

This was a particularly frustrating part of the process.

Remember that my initial goal was to retrieve my myki usage records.

This is where my goal, as a user, and the mymyki website, as the ‘business’, have conflicting needs.

Initially I wanted to get my full history of myki usage, so I selected September 2014 to Dec 2015. Selecting a future date is a common user completion task because they presume the system will perform the task ahead of time.

This is where I receive my first error: Filtered dates cannot be in the future.

With dropdown menu items, it is considered poor practice to include impossible results – if the system cannot perform the task, never give users to option to ask.

I corrected my filter with the present date only the receive my next error:
results can only be within 6 months.

This is frustrating because this error message should have appeared in the first page. There is no reason – none whatsoever – to not have multiple instances of error messages for the user.

This issue could be easily resolved with copy – simply telling users prior to submitting the form to retrieve the scope of the records would alleviate this issue.

A prime user case for downloading these records would be to consolidate public transport for taxation purposes. Having a 6 month limit may be a legal restriction but it isn’t terribly useful.

Usability and Accessibility go hand in hand

The most frustrating aspect of repeating an action multiple times is thinking about how this affects users in need of accessible websites due to browsing with a disability.

Disabled users browse websites slower and it is often far more frustrating for these users in comparison to a fully able web user.

Visually impaired users are especially affected by this as repeating a form submission without visual aides is a long and careful process. Frustrated users may abandon the website and pursue the task later on.

Accessibility shouldn’t be a ‘check-box’ in which you fulfill just for legal compliance.

Knowing not to build a house with asbestos still provides no insights on how to build a house.

A proper accessible website should be usable. If there are impossible operations in a form, the user shouldn’t be allowed to submit the form in the first place.

Many of these problems could be easily resolved if the initial design was with empathy for the use.

Compliance isn’t the be-all end-all in serving users for government websites.

Peter Macinkovic is a Digital Strategy Consultant at Apex Action and contributes to GovLoop by providing insights to the Australian Digital Space regarding Government-led websites.

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