The Number 1 Form Design Flaw

Designing a good form isn’t easy. It’s a balance between being terse to keep things clean but making sure there is enough info that a user can complete it without getting stuck. Then there’s layout,  asthetics, sizing and selection of controls just to name a few.

However even if you don’t get that part all right you’ll be ok as long as you don’t mess up this key item.

The number one mistake you can make is to NOT repopulate the form upon submission if something fails validation.

As a user the insult added to injury is that not only did you accidentally not complete the form correctly but as punishment you’ll have to start over from scratch!

If that isn’t bad enough it can get worse. What if the error is beyond the users control? Ever fill in a form and get rejected because the CAPTCHA response wasn’t a correct match yet you’d have bet money it was absolutely correct!?

How bad can this really be? Well here’s the “perfect storm” of user frustration.

The IE Blog Comment Form (Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Blog)

1.) The Commenters tend to be upset with Microsoft’s design choices even before they start writing a comment
2.) The IE Blog has a 15min anti spam filter that automatically denies any comment that takes the user more than 15min to write… starting from when the article page loads… but the reader doesn’t know this
3.) Readers take 5-10min to read the article and existing comments before adding their own
4.) user dives in and starts a comment… pouring their story details into a textarea (the one field even your browser won’t remember for you even if you have form completion turned on)
5.) after writing up an often long piece of feedback prose the user clicks submit

Sadly due to the hidden timer (which makes no sense what so ever) and other anti spam techniques (e.g. Counting the # of links) the failure rate for posting is well over 50%!!!

All that work lost because the form doesn’t repopulate!

It’s such a big problem on the IE Blog now that at least 25% of the comments are actually readers complaining that the comment form is broken! Just take a peek at the number of people complaining on the site!

This brings up a topic for another post…

“Ignoring your customer’s complaints doesn’t make them go away – it erodes your public image”.


Mobile Games that *require* a user to be online

There’s a slew of mobile games that users can play on their devices… and many of them can be “enhanced” by playing online against others.

However there are many times when you might not have Internet access (on a subway, in a tunnel, on a plane, at a convention where the WiFi is jammed) or any interest in wasting your data plan to update your game stats on some server somewhere.

I’m not going to name names… but there’s a bunch of games these days that *require* an Internet connection to even run!

Intelligently designed games can store your game stats locally and then upload them at a later date if desired… there’s no reason a game should force the user to be online in order to play (unless it is a critical part of the game… e.g. online chess).


Software Downloads with pre-selected Bloatware

As a computer user (and an IT professional) it never ceases to bother me when I go to download a piece of software that insists on trying to trick me into installing “bloatware”, “crapware”, “adware”, etc.

In fact it doesn’t really matter what the “other” software is – I didn’t ask for it and I most certainly do not want it (no matter what it is!).

The worst part is that this majorly affects my impression of your brand!  Take this example case of Adobe Flash… for reasons I don’t quite understand this software needs to be updated constantly but even though it includes its own networking capabilities it insists on re-directing you to its website to be downloaded at which point you can download it by clicking the great big button but if you do you’ve inadvertently agreed to let Adobe bundle a 3rd party application install.  So every time you go to download an update you have to manually refuse to install other apps with it.


I have nothing personal against “McAfee” in this case but Adobe is losing my respect by trying to force apps on unsuspecting users.  Its a shady practice and is tarnishing Adobe’s reputation.

If you work for a software company that is tempted to offset the hosting costs of your downloadable apps by installing tag-along software – seriously consider the ramifications.  IMHO it is just not worth the long term negative impact it will have to your company’s public image.

Welcome to the Software Design Blog

I’m not entirely sure what this site will become but I felt the need to publish some random thoughts & rants about software design – especially about the programming that goes on behind the scenes.

Think of it as a mix of design topics around UX/UI, a touch of Coding Horror style notes on the industry at large, and a good slathering of what not to do like the posts on The Daily WTF provide.

Basically I want to be able to say just a wee bit more than Twitter allows 😉


Oh and of course screenshots that will make you shudder…


All thoughts on here are just that… thoughts.  You can agree, disagree, etc. Just try to keep an open mind and refrain from using language in the comments that your Mother would cringe over you stating.