We survived yesterday’s brush with an application required by a university’s parking office. By using their abysmal progressive web application, we avoided installing their foul app-store app that doesn’t work. The process was still miserable: the verification code they texted didn’t work. Starting from scratch yielded the same verification code (though sent from a different number, just to maximally clutter up my text messages). On the third try, the identical-every-time verification code worked. It makes me wonder if the codes do anything at all, or are just there for show and they randomly accept every nth attempt. Oh, and they charged us a 25¢ CONVENIENCE fee for the pleasure of using their trash.

Which brings me back to the question, why are web sites often so incredibly bad? My wife will watch me struggling with a web site and say “all this time I thought it was just me.” Which is, I suppose, one answer. People assume that no real web designer would have created the kind of crap out there that just simply doesn’t work, so “it must be me” and they don’t complain. I’ve built hundreds of web sites, some quite complex, and I assure you that most “professional web designers” are more than willing to push out utter garbage that is only barely good enough to demo well.

Problem 1: users don’t complain

We’ve managed to set user expectations so low, plus be demeaning and victim-blaming in our support, that people don’t complain when confronted with a broken web site.

Problem 2: many companies would like to steer you to their app

When you install an app on your phone, you’re granting the app maker access to an astonishing trove of your personal information, whether you actually use the app or not. If the company, or the app developer, or the analytics company they use is in the business of selling or abusing your personal data, they’d much rather you enrich them than have them use their web site where you can do such nasty things as use an ad blocker and, even scarier, Privacy Badger.

Problem 3: if you do complain, the exact wrong people get to filter your complaint

If the site has a link, usually in small type at the bottom of the page, that lets you offer feedback on the web experience, you might be tempted to express some frustration at the fact that the web site was confusing or simply broken. But where would such a complaint go? To exactly the wrong people. Most such links give feedback to the web design team. They’re not likely to go to their bosses and say “gee, we were so inept in how we designed your site that we now need even more money to fix it.” So your complaint goes unheeded or, at best, gets put in the hopper of “things we should do when we’ve finished everything the marketing department has asked for and we just have a lot of extra time and resources to spend on it.”

If you happen to run a company that uses web interfaces, I urge you to try going on your own site to try to accomplish some simple tasks. Don’t let the web developer stand at your shoulder and say “No, you should do it this way.” Do it on your own, the way your customers will have to, and take some notes about the pain points. And encourage web devs to link the feedback form to someone in your customer service or marketing departments instead of to their own self-serving black hole.


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