Why users fail. Frequent usability issues we have observed when testing with users.

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At TeaCup Lab, we have had the privilege to take a close look into the issues users have when dealing with an interface. And we’ve been able to learn what works and what doesn’t work for them. We have learnt why users fail.

We are constantly running usability tests on all kind of devices and interfaces for companies of all sizes and sectors. As UX consultants, we’ve been involved  in more than 200 user research studies with thousands of participants for companies of all sizes and sectors.

This ongoing list of the most frequent issues is not intended to be exhaustive. Nor based on a thorough collection or classification method. Jakob Nielsen’s tremendous longitudinal study is a far better source of information to quantify the frequency and impact of usability issues.

This article just highlights some of the difficulties we have repeatedly seen over and over in most usability tests, regardless of the business sector, device used or participants’ skills.

Lack of information

Probably, the most common cause of failure we’ve observed is the lack of relevant information. Users miss information that supports the task the participant is trying to accomplish.

Designers often make wrong assumptions about the amount of information needed in an interface. They sometimes apply the “less is more” rule too freely.

Users always need clear and relevant information when they are: dealing with complex features, trying a new product or service or when they could likely suffer negative consequences from a wrong choice.

Making a purchase, booking a flight or managing their bank account. These are 3 common situations where the lack of information can make participants abandon their task. Or, in some cases, indicate they would rather make a phone call to the support center.

Your website does not provide enough confidence

When testing e-commerce websites, participants often abandon a purchase because they don’t trust the website or are concerned about the security of their data.

Many would say that this should not occur in a controlled environment such as a usability lab, where participants are generally using fake data to complete a purchase or a registration.

However, it happens. And it happens more often than you can expect.

Incoherent or confusing information, technical errors, the lack of a contact option or simply a shabby look are the most frequent factors that made users mistrust a website and abandon their task.

There are some pieces of information users still don’t want to provide (without any good reason)

Users’ concerns about providing their personal information in a website are not only a matter of confidence.

Phone numbers, national ID cards, license plates, or even email addresses… they should be requested only when it is strictly necessary for accomplishing the task.

This is a widely known usability best practice that, however, gets ignored sometimes.
Users still abandon a registration or a purchase just because they consider that the request for some personal data is not justified.

Most of the times they are true.

Asking for their phone number or home address when they are only trying to get a quote for their new car insurance is not acceptable for many of them.

Corporations do not need their phone number to calculate a price. What are these companies “saying” with their phone request? That they are going to call users if they leave without purchasing an insurance.

On the other hand, asking for the same information when you’re filling in your delivery address is fine. However, you could still abandon the task if I don’t explain you why I need your phone number (for example, to send you updates about the status and delivery of your order).

Confusing or incoherent information

When the same sensitive information is presented in different ways during the journey, test participants, as real life users, tend to become suspicious. They doubt about whether they can trust the website.

A couple of years ago we tested a large website specialized in hotel room reservations.

Our client was doing a good job in explaining the cancellation policy clearly and in every step of the booking process. Unlike other travel websites we had been testing.

Most participants were able to find an hotel and to select a room without major errors. However, some of those who paid attention to the cancellation terms in the hotel detail page noticed that the same information had been written in a slightly different way during the payment step.

The differences were insignificant and the conditions did not change at all. But that was enough to make participants feel insecure. They believed the website was not reliable and they felt they were no longer in control of the process.

The result was that some of them decided to end their task without booking.

Hard to read content

Small texts often proved to be hard to read for a number of participants of any age. Especially those placed over complex images or with insufficient contrast (compared to their background).

Some of them won’t explicitly complain about the poor readability of some sentences. Nevertheless, the issue is easily detectable. How? By observing participants leaning towards the screen in the attempt of reading what is written on the page.

We’ve been spotting this issue on both PCs and mobile devices. It is even more common on small screens.

In a few cases, while we were recording the interaction of the participants on a mobile phone with a document camera, the content was so difficult to read that they even placed their heads between the camera and the device.

When the content that is hard to read is trivial, this issue has no or little impact on the users’ experience. On the contrary, hiding some relevant content may often result in confused participants. These participants will not be able to end the task correctly or decide to abandon it.

We are experts in User Research. We test with real users to help you create usable products and great user experiences.

Tell us about your project and discover how we can help you.

+34 910 59 21 36​

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