The fruits of UX Cambridge

I like to think about stuff. My problem is that some of the hardest stuff to think about is trying to decide what stuff to think about in the first place. I guess that’s not unusual – one percent inspiration and all that…

But once I do get those first seeds, I love to make them grow into something beautiful and delicious. Actually, that’s an ironic analogy because I’m really a bit shit with plants as a rule. Nevertheless, I’m going to take this seed/plant thing and run with it.

For me, going to UX Cambridge is like buying a random collection of all-season value-pack seeds – and then sowing them all at once, across the same patch of ground.

The result is an explosion of thoughts all developing at different speeds, some inevitably not getting the love they seek, and others growing strong with seemingly little effort.

It makes my head hurt. I can’t sleep – the myriad thoughts buzzing around in my mind simply won’t let me detach – their tendrils inextricably intertwined.

For a while the fastest growing seedlings appear to be the winners. But the flowers finally show off their pretty petals and are gone, the vegetables bear their goods and wither. Then, from the undergrowth, slowly growing stems and determined little branches rise up and you realise these are the fruit trees – the trees that will bear fruit, not just once, but again and again. These are the ones that need nurturing.

So much wisdom, so much knowledge, so many insights, so many ideas are shared at UX Cambridge – by speakers and attendees alike. It’s hard to know at the time which are the flowers, the vegetables, and the fruits. The descriptions and answers don’t come on the back of a packet, they are only realised with time – and by what we do in that time.

These seeds – thrown by our peers, our teachers – we can take them, grow them, nurture them and shape them to form the opportunities that are our own destiny.

If we do nothing, those artifacts that are notes and sketches and slideshares might just become the pretty flowers that briefly appear, never to see the light of day again.

If we work a little, passing on the knowledge to our colleagues and implementing a few ideas for our clients, we might enjoy the richness and one time goodness of the vegetables.

But the fruit trees! Those are the true givers. The fruit trees become locked in to our own destiny. It’s the people at UX Cambridge that provide those seeds that make me think about my own destiny.

So I take a moment, think not about what I saw and heard, but what I felt, what moved me and what it really meant to me. I think about why, and why again. I think about my values, my fate. I do what I love. I love what I do. But can I do it better?

It’s never too late to change your destiny. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said: “Sometimes our fate resembles a fruit tree in winter. Who would think that those branches would turn green again and blossom, but we hope it, we know it.”

We hope it. We know it.

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Insert job title here

If you’re a UX designer who codes, you might read Leisa Reichelt on whether UX Developer is really a thing, and also Andy Budd’s response that UX Developer is a misleading and potentially damaging job title.

Who’s right. Who’s wrong. Does it matter?

Recent Nielsen Norman Group findings said:

Across a thousand UX professionals we found high job satisfaction and extreme diversity in terms of hugely varying educational background, 210 job titles, and wide-ranging work roles and activities.

210 job titles. Two hundred and ten!

This is not uncommon. And to those in the industry, not particularly surprising, or even new.

When Dan Rubin was Creative Director at Moo and they were looking for someone to fill a UX role, he said they had to search through at least 50 different job titles amounting to the same thing.

Talking of Moo, I recently ordered some new business cards from them - they love to print, you know.

I didn’t have any amazing design on the cards, just the facts.

Carolyn at Moo got back to me pretty quickly with a very helpful email suggesting I may have forgotten to change part of the template:

We’ve noticed a problem with your order whilst quality checking it.

Below you’ll see a description of the problem, and next steps in resolving it.

The image you’ve uploaded with your contact details still contains the default template text “Insert Job Title Here“.

I’ve included a screen shot to better illustrate this:

Well here’s my response:

Hi Carolyn,

First of all, I would like to thank you for noticing. Some would not, and some that do would not care.

Actually, though, this is deliberate.

And here’s my reasoning:

1) Job titles carry baggage

Not even necessarily my baggage, but other peoples baggage!

In the field I work in, there are numerous job titles or roles in which I work, or want to work.

The titles are confusing. They mean different things to different people, maybe positively, maybe negatively, but always unpredictably.

Some people will only look for certain job titles because that’s what’s on their list of titles to look for.

Some will hear Expensive when they see Contractor or Consultant.

Others will sneer at the term Designer when what they want is Unicorn.

Still more will either cheer or jeer at words like Evangelist or Hero.

There is no correct title, and I don’t want these cards flipped in the bin due to being pigeon holed with preconceptions and misconceptions about a few little words I used to describe what I do.

That’s not what I want for my lovely Luxe cards, and neither do you.

2) I have multiple personalities

I run my own business so as well as my client-based work, I am Owner, Founder, CEO, Managing Director. And Janitor.

There’s nothing wrong with being the janitor, I just don’t want to have to pick a label to tattoo on my forehead. Despite how trendy tattoos are becoming.

3) It tackles a problem rather than avoiding it

None of the above is to say that what I do is not relevant. Of course it is.

I could perhaps not include the job title at all. But by including that line, I do not ignore the problem.

I do not want to lose sight of the importance of my role. For me or my clients.

So I feel this tackles the issue head on.

I am giving people the opportunity to see me and my role through whatever title they would like to see me  fulfill.

It’s just that the words are up to them.

4) It starts a conversation. Like this one.

I want to have more conversations like this with people like you.

And hopefully, as a result, my cards won’t end up in the bin.

Thanks again!


Note: If you still feel the need for a title, you could always pick yourself a good’n from the UX job title generator.

In case you’re curious about the odd right-aligned layout on the card. You’ll see why if you ever get a card from me!

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Rule-based mistakes and my stupid phone keeps doing stuff I didn’t ask it to

You know how sometimes, say you’re in the middle of doing something on your phone, and then suddenly it goes off on one, like it’s got a mind of its own, and does something you didn’t ask it to do?

Well, the reason might just have been because you made a rule based mistake.

A postnote publication (2001) from the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology on Managing Human Error (PDF) was issued in the aftermath of the Cullen Report for the Ladbroke Grove rail crash.

The article describes issues around human attention characteristics:

Attention on a task can only be sustained for a fairly short period of time, depending on the specifications of the task.

One of the things that affects attention is habit formation:

Habit forming – if a task is repeated often enough, we become able to do it without conscious supervision, although this ‘automatisation’ of regular and repetitive behaviour can force us into mistakes.

The paper then quotes a great example:

The Automatic Warning System installed on all passenger trains in the UK is an example of a system that was not designed with limitations of human attention in mind. It is a device fitted in the train cab, based on the now obsolete mechanical system of signalling that used to signal either STOP or PROCEED. It sounds a bell when a clear (green) signal is passed and a buzzer when caution or danger is signalled. If the buzzer is not acknowledged by the press of a button, then the train begins to stop automatically.

In commuter traffic, most signals will be at the ‘caution’ aspect, and given the frequency of signals (spaced 1km apart), most drivers 
will face two signals per minute. Given the tendency for the attentional system to automate highly repetitive behaviour, many drivers lose focus on the reasons for carrying out this repetitive task, and act in reflex whenever the buzzer sounds. The end result is that drivers often hear the buzzer and press the button reflexively without actively thinking about train speed and location.
Source: Davies, D. (2000): Automatic Train Protection for the Railway Network in Britain [PDF] – A study. RA Eng., London

So – we are predisposed to automatically delegate repetitive actions to our subconscious whilst our ‘conscious brain’ deals with concentrating on other things that are going on around us.

How does this relate to the opening line above?

Well, did your phone really do something you didn’t ask it to do – or in fact did you make a mistake and select the wrong thing, believing it to be the right thing, because you were processing the action subconsciously – without time for the conscious part of your brain to recognise the current scenario did not confirm to the rules you believed were being adhered to and followed?

Here’s an example of how it can happen:

Android has a system of application updates. You can set the apps to update automatically, but when an app needs to ask permission to access more parts of the phone than a previous version, the app gets queued in the Play Stores list of apps requiring a manual update (at which point permission will be sought).

When you have a number of apps to update and you don’t want to ‘Update All‘, you have to go through a repetitive process of choosing an app in the list, waiting for the app page to appear and then clicking the Update button.

Flickr App Update on Android

By the time you’ve done a few of these, you start to form a repetitive sequence of actions – select app, press update, accept permisions, go back, select app, press update…etc

You start to offload the process to your subconscious.

So when you get this sequence of screens:

EventBrite App Update on Android

Path App Update on Android

Hangouts App Update on Android


Whoa! What’s going on, this app just opened without being asked!

Well, check the position of the update button in each screen. It’s in the same position on every screen (above the Uninstall button) – except the last one, where there is no uninstall option and the Open button has shunted the Update button down.

Because you’re in this subconscious repetitive action, you’re not even reading the words on the buttons any more. You know where the button is that you need to click. You know there’s two buttons and it’s the top one you need. There’s not enough of a different scenario for the subconscious to trigger an alert and raise the task up to the conscious processing.

The application opens – and only then do you take note of this unexpected event for what you believe to be inexplicable reasons. In all likelihood, if someone asked what you did you’ll say ‘I just pressed the update button and it just opened up instead of doing what I asked!’, probably followed by  ‘Stupid phone!’

And that’s how it happens. We see this very often on confirmation dialogs and other scenarios where we just don’t read what we see, we just subconsciously assume away.

When designing small interactions, have a thought for whether they are prone to repetition. If so, think about what alternate designs might prevent rule based mistakes, because it might not be just an app opening up – it might be a whole lot more serious than that!


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UX Cambridge 2013 – Reviewed, and An Apology

Last week was UX Cambridge 2013, mark three. I don’t know if three years is enough to establish a conference, but If I didn’t know, I’d never have guessed it was only in it’s third year. The whole event in the lovely grounds of Churchill College went without a hitch (as far as I know)!


Wednesday was Workshop day. I might be biased by the fact that my project was chosen on our table for the duration of the morning, but I found Tyler Tate‘s workshop on Designing the Search Experience so good I went out and bought his book right away. Of particular interest I thought was the framework for examining The Information Needs of Mobile Searchers (PDF), which serves as a great basis on which to start thinking about the people who are going to use your search tools.

Meanwhile Mike Atherton‘s workshop on Content Modelling in the afternoon was similarly engaging and could easily have been extended to a day or two. Adrian Howard’s table tried to apply the basics of content modelling relationships to Twin Peaks – something of a challenge possibly?!


Thursday started with a keynote by John Thackara about ‘Doors of Perception‘. John started by saying that 5 minutes into giving the talk at a previous IxDA event, someone tweeted ‘What’s this got to do with my job’. Bad form, what!? I kind of see where they were coming from, but just because the message wasn’t written in 200pt Nexa XBold with a <blink> tag on the first slide doesn’t mean that the message wasn’t there, or relevant to us all. In fact, in a way, his talk was probably the most inspiring of the whole event, because he (indirectly) not only asks us to look inward at what we do in our jobs, but also asks us to look outward at our place in the world and see how we can connect the two in order to benefit as many people as possible. My interpretation was that of context – that there is always a bigger picture to the bigger picture. What I couldn’t immediately rectify in my own mind however, was how to expand my comfortable little world so as to benefit others – maybe some sort of geographical based matching of not-for-profit projects against skills available from volunteers?

Next up for me was Michele Ide-SmithGetting Started with Sketchnoting. OK I thought – I can draw, a bit. I can take notes. Therefore I can sketchnote – all I need to know is the methods. How wrong was I! I was rubbish. Everything blended into a homogenous mess where nothing stood out and everything gravitated towards one corner of the page. Oh dear, this is more tricky than I expected. Samantha Hosea however, put everyone to shame. So the key here for me obviously, was practice, practice practice.

Lee McIvor‘s session on The Art and Science of UX and Responsive Design was riddled with tips on responsive design – but tantalisingly we didn’t get to see the results of his most recent project where all this had been applied.

Bonny Colville-Hyde talked about Content, Clients and Responsive Design. Whilst she partly perpetuated the fact that there are a lot of bad UX agencies out there, she also stood up for the good agencies who do things right. A lot of what she was saying was clearly resonating with many of the people in the room. Bonny gave away cool pencils at the end. Free swag is always good.

Paula de Matos and Jenny Cham rushed through their tutorial: Survival Guide for Complex UX reminding us that you can’t rush the simplification of complexity! I was sad though, to miss Alberta Soranzo‘s overlapping workshop on Taming Taxonomy.

Lightning talks followed and speakers were not to be hurried despite Ryan practically hopping up and down in front of them when their time was up!

A wonderful punting and BBQ evening rounded off a great day.


Friday started with Stephanie Rieger‘s keynote on the Designing for [mobile] Diversity. This was a fresh talk but it came across like it was being delivered for the 100th time. Crammed with bite sized facts and figures, this was an awesome awesome keynote.

I’m something of a fan of Caroline Jarrett, so her workshop on Design Tips for Forms and Improving the UX of Complex Transactions was always going to brilliant. I was not disappointed. Caroline was also giving out wooden spoons for deserving comments. I was proud to get the only spoon for lying [it was obvious], although Caroline said it was for (ahem) creativity. She was also extolling the virtues of Ginny Redish‘s book Letting Go of The Words (Second edition mind!) which was my second immediate purchase after the conference. I heartily recommend it if you write words. Anywhere.

Jessica Ivins gave a wonderful case study of Introducing the UX process into a Culture, describing how in the first year of being in her current role she introduced UX research, methods and analysis to the company and her colleagues at AWeber.

The day was rounded off for me by the great Whitney Quesenbery talking about Creating a Web For Everyone, extolling the virtues and outcomes of properly considering not just accessibility, but purpose; structure; interaction; wayfinding; presentation and plain language.

There’s lots of coverage of UX Cambridge on Lanyrd.

An apology

I don’t live far from Cambridge, so it’s a bit embarrassing not to have been supporting a local UX event until now, since UX is my passion, but nevertheless, this was my first UX Cambridge.

Earlier in the year, I heard Mark Dalgarno say someone had said UX Cambridge was better than UX London. Why, I nearly snorted in my cider as I exclaimed WHAT!! Not possible. I really really enjoyed UX London 2012. The speaker list was second to none: Buxton, Spool, Kolko, Rubin, Wroblewski, Anderson, Buley, Reichelt, Halvorson, DeRouchey, and many more. So hearing this made me chuckle in disbelief.

Well, I take my hat off and openly apologise for my apple flavoured outburst. UX Cambridge was better than UX London. Sure, UX London had the names, but UX Cambridge had names too, good ones. But UX Cambridge also had a dose of reality – workshops and case studies, tutorials and lessons learned in environments that more people will find relevant and useful in the real world. And that’s way more important.

But UX Cambridge was not just about the speakers, it was about the people who attended. UX Cambridge was smaller, more friendly, more social, more manageable, more comfortable. Just more.

To all the wonderful people who attended UX Cambridge 2013, I raise my glass to you and hope to see you there next year.

I thought Mark, Ryan, Jacqui, Cara and everyone else all did a wonderful job. One thing though – the swag bag – maybe next year a little packet of delight with my lanyard – a bag of pork scratchings maybe?!


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Responsive design does not mean ‘designed for touch’

Responsive design seems to have become this approach to design that says:

If we take our existing website and give it a responsive design, then we’re good for mobile, right?

Well, actually – NO!

I commented on this at a talk I gave on mobile UX last week to the Cambridge Mobile App Group.

I gave the Adobe products page as an example.  On desktop browsers this is a 4 column page listing all their products, featured products, and other info.

A year ago, you got the same thing on mobile as you did on desktop – a ridiculously big page for a smartphone sized screen. You had to choose between

a) seeing more content but not being able to click efficiently on a link without hitting 5 at the same time


b) being able to touch the links but having to pan around a lot to discover and browse content.

Now, Adobe made the page responsive, but all the same content is still there on the one page. Yes, the headers have some less important items squashed together into a drop menu, but the result of the responsive tweak is that there is now a massive great long page because all four columns have become one long one. Hence – a hell of a lot of scrolling.

In a way, I’m actually torn between the non responsive and the responsive design of this page (neither are good). In the non responsive design, all parts of the page are reachable more easily – the two dimensional layout means no point on the page is really that far away. But on the responsive design, the bottom of the page is faaaar awaaaaay from the top, likely meaning more touch interaction required to browse the page. Features that were fairly oriented towards top right, (by virtue of being placed top of the fourth column), such as ‘Log in to Creative Cloud’, now end up being 80% of the way down the page.

Also the Featured Products area has become paged via a left and right arrow that is less than 1mm wide!

My complaint with many sites moving to responsive design is that a half-baked global responsive approach to large websites does not address the detail of interaction at the level where users will actually notice the changes. It’s a top down instead of a bottom up approach.

Designers need to think more about designing for touch and that means a bottom up rethink of the way users interact with content, not just throwing this responsive skin around it as a slapdash way of porting a website to the realm of mobile usability.

And as Brian Fling says, “Great mobile products are created, never ported

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Mobile UX – Cambridge Mobile App Group Event – 16 July 2013

I will be speaking at the Cambridge Mobile App Group in Cambridge (UK) on Tuesday 7pm about mobile user experience. There are still spaces available for this talk.

The talk will cover:

Considerations for the user experience when transitioning content from the desktop to the mobile platform, whether that’s websites, apps, or websites that behave like apps.

What you might want to consider when it seems to be too late for the ‘Mobile First’ methodology.

Designing the user experience around the constraints and capabilities that mobile provides and the types of user behaviour that mobile entails.

The relationship between desktop and mobile content and the cross channel experience.

There will be an in depth look at a couple of examples and the talk should be of interest to designers, developers, researchers (in fact, basically anyone) involved with, or just interested in, projects for mobile devices.

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Google Glass User Interface Guidelines

As Google releases the new Developer API info (the ‘Mirror’ API) for Glass we also get a new set of user interface guidelines to go with the dozens of others that can be collected from around the web.

Here’s Timothy Jordan speaking at SXSW recently about Glass and building new experiences for Glass, including it’s timelines, cards, bundles, subscriptions, OAuth, examples and other API info. Note how many times he reiterates about the need to design for glass.

Oh – and in case you’re in doubt, don’t forget you can’t go scuba diving with Glass.


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What is user experience? Exactly.

I’ve been asked a few times recently, “So what exactly is user experience?”

It’s a good question, but there’s a problem with it. The word ‘exactly’. Trying to define user experience exactly is like trying to nail jelly to a wall.

However, recently a Munich based user experience and interactive design studio Envis Precisely made an infographic (see below) outlining the disciplines of user experience.

I think they did a pretty good job, but a lot of people involved in user experience will be looking at it and thinking ‘Looks pretty, but where do I fit in here’. And that includes those with such titles and fields as Service Design, Content Strategy, UX Strategy and others.

The criticism won’t stop there. Others will complain that there’s no intersection between certain disciplines like HCI and Computer Science, or that the size of circle for their field is disproportionate in it’s importance or in relation to others, like Writing (content and micro-copy).

And that’s the problem – this infographic is not meant to define relationships between all these disciplines. It can’t, because there is no rigorous definition of the terms. Interaction design is not 37.34% user interface design according to some role-based equivalence of  the SI standards. There’s so much that affects a person’s view of these disciplines, and it varies from person to person, project to project, org to org.

There is no way this chart could be fixed and keep everyone happy, and certainly not have it remaining accessible.

So this chart does not, and cannot answer the question ”So what exactly is user experience?”, especially as asked by someone already in the field.

No – what I like about this graphic is that it answers the question “So what is user experience”, as asked by someone seeking understanding and who does not already have an opinion, and in that context, I think this visualization is (almost) perfect.


The Disciplines of User Experience Design

Update: 3 Oct 2013: 
The original source of this diagram

For those who know that little is new,  the above infographic was based on an original graphic by Dan Saffer from 2008.

An interesting question raised by Saffer in that article was  that of  ”what is user experience design by itself, those areas that aren’t filled up with other bubbles?

It would be wrong to think of this as an empty or negative space. The opposite in fact, because as Dan goes on to say: the practice of user experience design itself is about the “management and coordination between the disciplines“, not solely the involvement in the disciplines themselves.

That, I think is a great way to look at trying to explain user experience – not just as a set of disciplines; not limited to the relationships between them, but the coordinated cohesion of the disciplines into an environment that produces not just a product, but a great product.

So – if you want a metaphor that uses bubbles: User Experience is not just the bubbles that float, it is the air that carries them, and the surface tension that bonds them.

Credit: Bubbles photo by flickr user sfllaw (source - license)

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Luke Wroblewski interview with Joe Welinske of Blink

Joe Welinske of Blink recently interviewed Luke Wroblewski, and as the ConveyUX website reports, Luke discusses the reaction to his book Mobile First. He offers suggestions for UX professionals on how to gain support for a mobile first design strategy.

You can hear the interview over at at ConveyUX, but I found the audio a bit of a struggle to deal with, so here’s my rough notes taken from that 15 minute interview. It’s not verbatim so apologies if I’m putting words in people’s mouths!

JW: It’s been a while since Mobile First came out. You’ve had time to see the impact, talk to people? How’s the philosophy of Mobile First going?

LW: As ever, different people (mis)interpret these things in different ways, and that’s definitely happened.

It’s amazing to see the applicability in areas I’d not previously considered.

Mobile’s growing like a weed, and it’s been nice to see the philosophy really get extended over the years.

People sometimes ask: Am I screwing the desktop version? I’ve been through enough of these exercises in the past and in fact this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Plus, what’s the difference between some of these desktop and tablet devices. Folding or removable touch screens – some are not that different. With Mobile First you’re doing something to help with a range of other touch devices – working towards tomorrow.

Another thing that comes up in the press now and then is that it’s really hard to create native apps and make it succeed – that it’s a blocker to going Mobile First.

Fred Wilson saidJust because something’s hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to do it. Websites are hard – anything new is hard.

JW: Mobile First and expanding upwards – looking at implementation, what challenges are there with say practical issues like scalability wrt tools etc?

LW: My methodology is that the mobile version is a foundation to build on, so when you push to the web you enhance and layer in as you get more screen real estate.

That becomes the front end technical solution if you like. I see so many responsive web designs now that are great on phone, tablet and desktop.

JW: The use case of people working with content in a mobile environment is very different to expectations of needs for desktop content – is responsive web design still relevant there? Does mobile first methodology work there?

LW: Assuming mobile use is this moving on-the-go use case is a non starter. 20% of use is on the couch, with TV on. 39% use mobile in bathroom (61% are lying!), so usage is anywhere and everywhere.

Assuming mobile device usage actually means mobile (moving) context, and saying you’re going to change the interface or content to do XYZ is a mind reading/losing proposition. I don’t know anyone who’s made that work intelligently.

I’m not seeing anyone going about cutting out important functionality just for mobile. On mobile, if users come from a Google search and then find the stuff they were expecting isn’t there then they’re going to be pretty pissed off.

Just because my screen is small doesn’t give anyone insight to my behaviours, desires and needs.

I do believe there are certain contexts where you have certain information, then it’s common to have location based services so their mobile use has risen – but it’s still valid on desktop. But you just perhaps make the content less prominent on desktop compared to mobile.

So the question of context comes up a lot. You can tune the prioritisation or hierarchy of information, but the presence of the content is still valuable in either case. You can totally manage that with a responsive web design.

JW: How would you suggest people go about putting forward the case that Mobile First should be embraced.

LW: The easiest thing is to go look at your logs.

I spoke to 2 big companies yesterday – one has 30% mobile traffic, the other has during the week 40%, and the weekend 50/50

Chances are that’s the environment you’re living in. Look round at everyone else. Facebook has more than 50% mobile use. PayPal, eBay – use other people’s data as a proxy. These are actual use cases.



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Lloyds TSB Statement Export – A Bad UX.

I had occasion to need to export a years worth of statements to an Excel file to help with filing a self assessment tax form.

This is a typical task completed by many people during January as the deadline for self assessment forms looms up at the end of the month.

I dread this task, because year in, year out, Lloyds TSB provides me with one of the most frustrating experiences I have found online. Past experience has taught me what constraints are in place and what sort of experience to expect, but…

This year, I thought I’d document my experience as if I were a new user, and write it up as a case study, because sure enough, Lloyds TSB did not fail to disappoint me this year either.


This is the Export Statement popup dialog which appears over your account page.

It looks innocuous enough. But right off the bat, there’s a problem – I can only download 150 transactions at a time. Well I have no idea how long it takes me to do 150 transactions. One month? Two months? Three maybe? If I enter the year period I’m interested, and find that 150 transactions only covered the first 39 days, I have to come back and enter a new start date corresponding to when the first export got truncated. And I have to make it overlap a bit because otherwise I might miss a few transactions from the date of truncation. So then I know I’m going to have to piece together these exports and find the bits that overlap and remove duplicated entries.

I decide I don’t want to do it in batches of 150 transactions, I’ll do it in batches of a few months at a time and try to ensure I never reach the 150 transaction limit. That way I can just piece the parts together without worrying about overlaps.

To kick things off I enter some dates 1 March to 30 June 2011. But I’m told that I’m only allowed to enter dates which are no more than 3 months apart.


Well – it would be good to know that constraint when I’m being prompted for dates. (See later in this article for why I don’t get told at the time.) If  I’d known I was restricted to 3 month periods I might not have bothered worrying about hitting the 150 transaction limit.

Then I try 1 March to 1 June. I hit the Export button. Nothing. Export again. Nothing. Actually what has happened is it’s given me the same error. When it says the dates are more than 3 months apart, it means the dates are not less than 3 months apart, inclusive of dates.

I correct the dates to be less than 3 months – 1 March to 31 May, as I realise that I’m going to have to work out the last date of the month for each end period. Thirty days hath April, June…how does it go?

I hit the Export button.

Oh dear! I get a timeout message meaningless to most users. It really wasn’t any significant time before I submitted the form. Not only that, it’s dumped me out of the popup dialog into the main window without giving me any navigation buttons to return to my account.

Unhelpfully it’s cleared the dates I entered, so I enter them again and give it another shot now that I’m in this main window. I press the Export button. Nothing happens, but a few seconds later, the download appears in the browser bar at the bottom. No success message though, and the SOAP error message is confusingly still there.


But, ok, this is progress – I got a download! I change the dates to 1 June and 31 August for the next (less than) 3 month period, and press the Export button. Nothing, but hey, I’m used to that now because I got no message and had to wait a few seconds for the download to appear last time.

I wait a few seconds. I wait a bit longer. Nothing. I click the Export button again. Nothing. The form is dead. Dead as a dodo shaped doornail.

So here’s where I need that button to get back to my account page, but there isn’t one remember. There is no relevant link on the page. Even the Lloyds TSB logo is not a home page link. I have to use the browser back button history to get back to my account, and start over again.

Now if things had gone smoothly, without the SOAP timeout error, what would have happened is that the popup dialog would have simply disappeared (this being the standard albeit insufficient success indicator) and a few seconds later the download would have appeared. The form, it seems, is not meant to be re-used – it’s just meant to disappear when you’re done. However, because the SOAP timeout error had dumped me into the main page, it couldn’t disappear after the first successful export, but it did effectively disable itself from working again. Probably behind the scenes, each instance of the form has a unique id that means it can’t be resubmitted, but it’s impossible for users to see or know this.

It’s worth noting here that what is meant to happen from Lloyds’ point of view is that for each period you want to download a statement, you need to enter the dates afresh in a new dialog. No chance of remembering the previous dates. No button to do the next 150 transactions or the next 3 months, or anything useful, just an assumption that Right, you’re done. If you want more, do it all again. No thought as to what users might want to do next. It’s enough to make a grown UX’er cry.

Moving on, I go back to the Statement Export popup dialog and get back to downloading a statement for my second period. This time it works. Occasionally. Sometimes I get the SOAP timeout error and are dumped into the main window again, and sometimes, there’s just a ‘technical problem’, but at least there’s a button to get back to my accounts though!

Gradually though, I get more and more bits of statement downloaded.

When I get to the end of 2011, I make a mistake by making the second date as 31 January 2011, instead of 2012. Fair enough. My bad!

I change the date to 2012, but the error doesn’t go away. I change the month to February to see if that makes it go away. Well it kind of does in that the big box error disappears, but the error at the top remains.

It had helpfully changed the date to 29th for me (only 29 days in Feb 2012). Now I want to change the date back to 31 January. I change the date from 29 to 31, and click the month field. Whoaa! Error under the drop down list – what’s that say?


I click away from the drop down list to see the message underneath.

Well the message there has clearly been brought about by having an invalid date for the month, but I’m right in the middle of sorting that out thank you very much! I’m obviously expected to change the month and then the date, even though at every point up to now I’ve entered date, then month.

When I tried a bit later, I had a quite similar situation with an invalid date/month combination, but this time the message was Please enter a value. What – I did! Tell me what’s actually wrong with it please?

In this case I changed the month to January. The message remained:

But actually the form is now valid and you can go and click the Export button and get the download (if there isn’t a technical problem!)

Now some of this is down to when the form checks the values – it does it on the focus-out of a field in the form, but it could save a whole lot of confusion by doing it more interactively. It’s also why I was not told of the 3 month date constraint before I clicked the Export button – the click of the button forces the focus-out which kicks off the error message. There’s also a broken link between the message at the top of the box and the highlighted fields, in that if the form is corrected, the message at the top should disappear too.


All in all, a pretty abysmal experience trying to export something that should have been able to be done in a single step in the first place.

I make no attempt to disguise the fact that this article is largely a rant. However, this was a real documented experience, and I don’t believe myself to be alone in receiving this kind of online banking service.

This is nothing short of a great example of bad UX.

My hope is that by documenting it here, others will learn how not to provide such a service online, and that possibly, just possibly, by the time I come round to doing this again next year, something might have been done about it.

In an ideal situation where banks are the domain experts of the financial world, shouldn’t it be possible to log in to your account after the end of a tax period and find a message:

To export your account transactions for the last tax year, click here.

Wouldn’t that be nice!

I’d love my bank again if they did that.


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