It’s Difficult – So Let’s Leave the User Out of It.

For too long, login, registration and online point of sale processes have been designed either by IT business analysts who see users as UML symbols, or worse, by developers who don’t want to think about users at all. More often than not, information architects get frozen out. I’ve worked on loads of sites that had ecommerce or registration processes that for some reason were deemed out of  scope for us. So we deliver a great experience up until the point the customer actually wants to engage with the site, whereupon it’s all “enter your 15 digit user name with no spaces or diacritical marks” in amongst idiotic placement of buttons, inappropriate use of screen elements, and various other usecrime.

Now, I know there are factors to consider here, like security policies and system limitations, but that doesn’t mean things shouldn’t start from a point of best user experience and go from there. When so many shopping carts and registration systems are confusing and broken, should it not be time for something to change?

To back up my thoughts on this a bit, here’s a real-world example. It’s not the worst I’ve seen, but certainly a mess. It’s for setting up a PAYG account with Orange. The diligent among you will know that yes, I work for a company that works for Orange, and no, we didn’t design the following and yes, I’m offering constructive criticism here, in case you’re confused.

(Note, the following may not be 100% correct as I was only making rough notes as I went along and relying on some memory)


Ring up, give name address, etc. and am asked to supply a 4-digit “security code” (no explanation given, but I just go with the flow). I decline the option to nominate a credit card as I’ve not got my wallet to hand.

Next I’m told I will get “a series” of SMS messages (they’re very explicit about the “series” bit for some reason) to activate the phone and that I should read, then delete them, then turn off the phone for a ten seconds.

I get one. So I do what I’m told. Now I’m just waiting for my old number to be ported over from BT Mobile – hooray. That’ll take a few days, apparently.

So later in the day I go to as I have a vague notion that I can top up my phone on line or something. I see a “log in” button,

I enter my mobile number and “password” which I assume is my “security code” that I got when I called.

No dice (“not recognised” error). So I try the little “New users click here to register” link.

This starts off with “Before you begin the process of registering your mobile number…” hmm. I thought I did that on the phone just now, no?

Never mind – I may was well give it a go. I check the PAYG box and the “I know my 4-digit identity code” – sounds better.

Hit continue…. wait for ages (about 5mins?).

Agree to T&Cs, enter phone number, and get an SMS, which has my “Orange services security code” in it.

I use that to log in with. It doesn’t work (another “not recognised” error).

I try the process again. Get a second code, this time it works.

I choose a password and submit the form. I wait for ages (another 5 mins? I leave the room to make a coffee)

I am then told the account is ready and that I can log in. So I navigate to the home page and log in.

It takes ages, then I get “Sorry, the server is currently busy. Please try again later.”

So I try later. But it seems like I am logged in after all (I can see “your account” and various things like setting up email on the nav bar). But what’s this? I need to enter my phone number again. So I do and I get an error. “The mobile number should be in the standard UK format with no spaces” – I had a space.

Delete space, try again, success! Now I get “enter your 4-digit security code” and an “identity code.” I’m just about to put the number in that I was sent earlier when – ping – another SMS arrives with my “identity code” in it again. It’s the same one as before, so I enter that.


“Thank you for registering your phone. To start managing your account please click ‘ok’.”

So I do. But then I need to “add a new account” before I can see my balance, etc. Dear god! Did I not do that before? So I enter my phone number and it set it up.

Time to completion: almost three hours.

Nice. And now I’m done but I can’t be arsed to explore the may other links on the nav bar.