The country picker. How small things make big differences

Paul Boag

The country picker found on many websites demonstrates how attention to detail can make a big difference to the user experience.

As web designers it’s easy to go on auto pilot sometimes. Take for example the humble country picker. You know, that drop down menu where people select their country. How many times have you copied and pasted the code for that little baby?

Country Picker
How many times have you coded a country picker without considering whether it is the best solution?

Have you ever really thought what you are doing there? Is that list really the right list for that site? Chances are you should be giving things more consideration.

Booking a bed and breakfast should be this hard!

A couple of days ago I was trying to book a bed and breakfast online. I went to the hotels website and filled in my details before being presented with a country picker.

Country pickers are annoying at the best of times. They are fiddly to use and most users don’t realise they can just start typing to jump down the list. However this one was particularly annoying.

For a start it was huge! It seemed to include every country on the planet. Somehow I seriously doubted anybody from war torn Iraq would be booking into a bed and breakfast in Winchester. Why include all of these countries? Why not just have an open text field? Were they really going to do any segmentation by country that required set fields? Somehow I doubted it.

Then I had the challenge of finding my own country. You would think that is fairly straightforward, but as anybody who lives in England knows it is not. Some lists say England, but others may say Britain, Great Britain or the United Kingdom. That involves a hell of a lot of scrolling up and down the list.

In this particular case, despite my best efforts, I could not find any reference to the United Kingdom in the list. I almost gave up. It turned out that the designer (knowing that this list sucked but failing to find an alternative) had put the United Kingdom at the top of the list! Although the entire list was alphabetical he had made an exception for the UK.

So easy to fix

The sad thing is that this would have been so easy to fix. A list of radio buttons of the top 3 or 4 countries would have been sufficient followed by a text box for other. It could have even defaulted to the UK. If they had wanted to get even fancier they could have used the solution found here.

Next time you code something you have coded a hundred times before (whether it is a country picker, error message or even a hypertext link) take a second to ask yourself whether this is really the best approach for that particular site.