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Unpredictability and Design

We are unpredictable beings. Evolution has made us this way, there was always a danger that had we been predictable someone or something would have taken advantage of us. Unpredictability has been good for us. Unpredictability also has become a fundamental part of our cognitive system.

What does our innate nature of unpredictability teach us about UX design? I don’t know who said it, but it seems apt. Great designs prepare for the unexpected, as well as the ideal”. I believe we end focusing quite a lot on the ideal. And lose focus on unexpected. When done right these scenarios help users get users out of a deadlock and bring a WOW factor to the design.

Done with extensive user research? Have lots of insights on user behavior? So far so good. Let’s start designing.

For example, using OTP(One time password) to help users login/register quickly has become a common pattern. Done rightly, it is one of the smoothest experiences you create for your users, however, we have encountered several apps getting it wrong. We have seen users struggle. Users don’t know what to do, they quit and uninstall the app immediately out of frustration. Post login, all interactions, and visuals were awesome but what is the use when the user does not even reach there.

What could potentially go wrong with something as simple as that?

Fair enough, genuine question, let us think of a use case which requires the user to enter their phone number and email address and lets user register in an app, we will keep asking ourselves what if questions at each step.

The user enters their email and phone number and an OTP is sent to their phone number. (Because business wants to validate the phone number)

Some questions:

  1. What if the user entered one(or more) digit by mistake and press enter. For e.g. 0778502619 instead of 0778502919. Can we figure out the difference between those two immediately? The user is waiting for the OTP and OTP went to some other number(Which might or might not even exist). And wait, if that number exists, then what about the other guy who got it? Won’t he panic? What about the dilution of the brand value?
  2. When the user realized their mistake(if at all), in that case, does the app provide an option to go back and let the user change their number? And also does the app sends an “Apology message” to the wrong number on behalf of the user? Have we thought about the copy of that message? Can we leverage the mistake done by the user and promote our product? Will it be ethical?
  3. What if the user does not realize their mistake(Likely case) and keeps pressing resend option for OTP? (Imagine the plight of the unintended recipient when he keeps getting an OTP which he never requested for!)
  4. Does the app have an option to resend the OTP? If yes, Does it have a logic where “resend” count is made and if it exceeds a number(say 2), is user prompted to make sure if he has put the right number in the text box?
  5. What if the number is correct and because of the faulty SMS gateway the user is not able to receive the OTP? Is there an alternate way to verify the number(By email or By call)? And when is it triggered?
  6. What if the user is stuck in the process and he needs help? And if the app redirects the user to an email app where he can send an email to the customer care service, does the app Auto-fill some details in the email app? Think about it, the user is already frustrated and we cannot expect him to write sentences in email.

Certainly, the example I presented above does not happen often(And many more small hiccups like this) but when it does, it makes the entire user experience take a backseat. And the end result is frustrated users. It is okay to miss some of these, but avoiding these is easy. All we need to do is put a little more thought to our user journeys.



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