Gimme some feedback

One of the most annoying things about many applications is that they do not give the information that users need when they need it. Did my action “take?” Did I “do it right?”

In the 21st century “real-time” world users expect information presented to them that is timely, updated and accurate. In our multitasking, impatient, twitterverse, instant gratification culture not immediately providing the most up-to-date information could give a false indication that everything is fine, or even a false indication that something is wrong.

If a web-form doesn't give feedback, user may enter the data again and again and again and again.

How many times have you sent something to a printer that didn’t print out? So you sent it again, and again. Finally you figure out that there was a paper-jam. You fix it. What happens? Unless you have admin access to the print queue you will have three copies of the document that you were printing. Had the printer queuing system been able to provide feedback that your first print job had failed, you might have been able to save at least a small branch of some poor tree (go green)!

Today’s users expect to see immediate feedback based upon their actions. When adding a new customer to an online database, they want to be certain that the customer has been added. Displaying a brief message in plain language such as, “Customer John Smith has been added to your list of preferred customers” may delight a person performing a data entry task. This would be much more effective than refreshing the list of customers and updating the “count” of records and hoping they notice it. I bet that this might also eliminate a lot of duplicate records.

There is pro-active feedback too. Users can be fairly tolerant of most any limitation including processing speed, or many other bad experiences, as long as you give them information in advance about what they are getting themselves into. A favorite example of mine took place a while ago while we were performing a Linux installation. Apparently the hard-drive needed to be reformatted into a Linux compatible structure and this process would take a l-o-n-g time. Instead of providing the standard progress indicator that slowly inched its way to completion, the interface popped up a window that said: “This process is going to take a long time, would you like to play Tetris?” and provided a link to launch a version of the game to keep us occupied while the formatting was being completed. A happy user no matter how long it took.

Don’t give too much feedback! Your application should provide appropriate messaging before or after your user completes any major step in your process.

You can (and should) provide at least some (perhaps visual) immediate feedback at the field entry level, but need to make sure that you do not overwhelm your user. The bottom line is that an informed user is a happy user. Keep them in the loop and they will keep you in theirs.

There is typically a 10 to 100 times return on investment (ROI) on resources spent on Usability and User-Centered Design. We are here to help your organization become as successful as possible. Take advantage of this ROI by contacting The Usability People today.