Bad user interface design is death by a thousand cuts

Too often we excuse small usability issues by saying it is only a minor inconvenience. But small things add up.

Like this video? Follow me on YouTube or share it on Twitter.

I am moving bank. Not because another bank offered me a better deal. I am moving bank because I am fed up with the user experience of my current bank’s mobile app.

There isn’t even anything seriously wrong with the app. It is not broken as such. But I use the app many times a day and the little things begin to grate with that level of use.

Using their app feels like death by a thousand cuts. So when I saw the alternative, I knew I had to swap.

You see, user experience matters. Matters enough to motivate people to move from one supplier to another. Its not even the big usability issues, its the little things that build up to make a bigger problem. It’s constantly encountering the same things that never seem to get fixed.

To show what I mean, I want to walk you through the process of logging in using two separate banking apps – First Direct and Barclays.

Logging in should be simple

Logging in with the Barclays mobile app is a pleasure. You launch the app and enter your five digit pin. No keyboard to fiddle with. Just a clear numerical pad.

For added security they display an authentication phrase so you know it is Barclays you are logging into.

Compared to that First Direct, is a nightmare. Upon launching the app you see a series of options. It forces you to click an extra button before you can login.

Now you could argue that people don’t need to login for some of those options. So why make them do so? But these are edge cases. The majority of people using the app will need to either login or generate a security code (which also involves logging in). They have designed for the few at the expense of the many.

Even the login is more complex. It requires me to enter a password at least 8 digits long including both upper and lower case, not to mention at least one number.

But what irritates me the most is that when the password box appears I need to click on it before I can start typing.

You might be thinking that the first direct login is more secure. Maybe, but Barclays are smart enough not to make that my problem. They promise that if any fraud happens via any of their online apps they will cover the loss. They are willing to take that risk to provide a superior user experience.

Show me what I need to know

Once logged in things don’t get much better. On the First Direct app the initial screen expands the side menu meaning I cannot even see my balances. The “Hello, how are you” message takes up a ridiculous amount of valuable real estate. Do they expect me to answer?

This is in stark contrast with the Barclays first screen. There I get to see my balances and have quick access to all my key tasks:

  • Make a payment
  • Transfer money between accounts
  • View statements
  • Store locators
  • Pin sentry
  • Call the bank

I particularly like calling Barclays from the app because I don’t need to verify myself again with the call centre. All the security information is automatically passed across.

Let me help you remove those usability annoyances from your app or website before your users go elsewhere.

Key lessons

So what are the lessons we learn from this comparison:

  • A bad user interface can drive customers away. A good user experience is a key differentiator.
  • Design for the majority, not edge cases.
  • Don’t make your problems (in this case security) the problem of the user.
  • Focus on showing users what they need and remove superfluous copy.

And don’t even get me started on the First Direct internet banking!

  • Darrell Butler

    I wholeheartidly agree with this. Having recently moved to First Direct, I am disappointed with their online banking and the associated apps. As 99% of my banking is done in this way, it’s an essential part of my relationship with them.

    The process isn’t a fluid one and as you say, with security being made ‘my’ issue, that is exactly what it becomes when I inevitabley forgot my credentials and endured a 15 minute phone conversation, whilst simultaneously resetting my passwords through the website. This seems disjointed.

    For a bank that champions its customer service above all else, it needs to ensure all facets of that service is considered from all angles. Oh, and what’s with the pop up window!

  • Paul

    The “How are you” on the FD app is a hilariously insincere attempt to be friendly. Whenever I deal with my bank in person or on the phone I don’t want to make small talk – it’s especially inappropriate in a medium where I can’t even answer!

  • I’ve always felt the First Direct digital experience is oddly poor as they’re so fantastically helpful and efficient whenever I’ve had to call one of their 24/7 and humans-only call centres. Perhaps they need an injection of digital focussed staff to start from the ground up with a new application. The online banking UI/UX is pretty poor too, it launches in a mid-2000s-esque pop-up window that takes up about a quarter of the size available on my monitor.

  • Dave McRobbie

    Interesting – I’ve worked for both Barclays and HSBC/FD and they are light years apart with their focus on ‘historical(?) customer service.

    Like Phil mentions – FD have high quality staff – and actually put their most experienced and best paid staff on the phones – leaving individual specialists to deal with any further detail. Barclays are completely different – they have under invested in their ‘offline’ customer service offline for years.

    But maybe your experience Paul highlights a larger organisational point – Barclays recognise (and probably have the stats) to suggest that investing more significantly online provides greater reputational value (as well as efficiencies) than offline…where maybe FD (being initially a telephone only bank) don’t..

  • kieronmayers

    The biggest failure on First Direct’s app (iOS) is the ‘error’ i get every time I open it after it’s been running in the background. It’s a security error which I understand, i.e. kick my out as I’ve been inactive, but why do I need to see it and then have to press a tiny arrow to get back to login again! Arrgh.