Principles of Application User Experience

  • Melanie Friedrichs
  • November 13, 2012
  • 0

How the eye views a web page; a typical “F” pattern

Last Tuesday, Devjit Basu, Andera’s Director of User Experience, hosted a great webinar on “Understanding Abandonment: Workflow Design to Increase Conversion.” Basu has specialized in financial services user experience for the last four years, working for BlackRock, BNY Mellon, and now Andera. You can see some of Basu’s previous work here or read his last post, “Simplify Your Web Pages Without Cutting Content” here.

At our last webinar, Basu outlined nine reasons that consumers abandon financial workflows:

The Unexpected

1. Layout

Over time, a standard, more specific layout for online forms has emerged. Almost all feature elements in the same vertical order: they ask you to type in your name, then your address, your telephone number, etc. We’ve all filled out forms of this type thousands of times and we’re used to a common format. Standardization means that consumers have come to expect forms to be structured in a certain way and deviating even slightly from the expected can confuse applicants and break the flow of completing an application.

Eye Tracker

Eye tracking on an online form.

2. Language

Every industry has its jargon, and it’s easy to forget that not everyone understands the terms we use working in financial services. For example, the average applicant doesn’t know what “Multi-Factor Authentication” means, and may be tripped up by even more innocent looking jargon like “account relationship.” Sometimes, using more words is better than using less if it means clarity for the consumer.

3. Interaction

While the order of application fields and steps matters only somewhat to most financial institutions, the order may matter a great deal to applicants. For example, some deposit account or loan applications ask applicants to select the products they’re applying for after they have entered their funding information. Applicants may worry they started the wrong application, and abandon the process. (Institutions that ask for a lot of information before letting applicants choose their products may be trying to maximize cross sell, but they may be hurting themselves in the process. See our evaluation of Bank of America’s tricks).

The Unknown

4. Effort

Well-designed progress bars are essential. Ideally, they should break up the process into 3 to 5 discrete, numbered steps. Institutions should balance the desire to be transparent or specific with the need to persuade the applicant that the process will be short and quick. Progress bars located horizontally at the top of the page are preferable to progress bars in a column on the side.

Progress Bars

5. Information

Have you ever been confused by a question in an online application or been asked to provide information that seems unnecessary? In both of these situations, understanding is key to moving forward. If the applicant doesn’t understand a question, they won’t continue. If the applicant doesn’t understand why they must provide a piece of sensitive information, they may fear a scam and abandon. Institutions can address uncertainty by wording questions as clearly as possible, by providing help text at appropriate points, and by prominently featuring their customer service phone number or customer service chat option persistently throughout the application. We also put a big lock on our application pages to signal to the applicant that the process is secure.

6. Consequences

Some online applications ask consumers to enter funding information, either credit or debit card information or account information for an ACH transfer, before the application has been approved. That begs the question: “what will happen to my money?” Likewise, applicants who are concerned about the impact of a deposit or loan application on their credit score may hesitate to submit their application. Boxes like this one can help applicants understand this better:

How Will This Affect My Credit Rating

The Unnecessary

7. Distracting Visual Design

Designers in every industry have been trying to declutter websites for several years now. Remember those sites from 10 years ago that had so many buttons that you didn’t know where to look? Unfortunately, a good number of them are still around in financial services. For more on this see Jim Breune’s article on Chase’s redesign.

8. Information

Too much text is bad for comprehension. While the brain will automatically process a sentence or a few words, applicants often gloss over large blocks of text. Except in the case of jargon (see above) online applications should adhere to the idea that “less is more.” Studies show that humans can process only seven, plus or minus two pieces of information at a time, but because applicants often try to rush through online forms as quickly as possible, we recommend even fewer, two to four.

9. Choice

By now, most are aware of “The Paradox of Choice” (see Barry  Schwartz’s TED talk), but many online applications still give consumers too many options. In every case, the “call-to-action,” where the institution wants the applicant to click next, should be extremely obvious:

Primary Button

This post was not intended to be a step-by-step guide to creating the perfect user experience, but rather an overview of the basic principles that should guide your institutions’ thinking about workflow design. The hardest part about designing applications is leaving your perspective behind and thinking about the unexpected, the unknown, and the unnecessary from the point of view of the average applicant.

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Melanie manages the blog for Andera, a small company that provides customer acquisition solutions to banks and credit unions. She is a member of the first class of Venture for America, a two-year fellowship in entrepreneurship that seeks to revitalize American cities by matching recent graduates with small companies in low-income cities. She graduated from Brown University in 2012 with an A.B. in economics.

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