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Thoughts, musings, and adventures of a user experience designer and front-end developer

Help your users help you!

In recent years there has been an increase in the use of online petition tools for environmental and social issues. A few weeks ago, I received an email urging me to submit a comment to my representative using one of these tools.I followed the instructions and filled out all the required fields. After submitting the form I received an error message (see images #1 and #2):

Needless to say, I was a bit confused when I received the error message. The instructions didn’t indicated that a format of 5 digit + 4 digit of my zip code is required in order to identify the correct government representative. The error message provided also a link to the US Postal website. By providing that link, the form designers are taking a chance that users will go to the US Postal website and never return to submit their comments.

When asking form users to volunteer their time, no matter how important the issue is, one should make the experience as easy, enjoyable, and smooth as possible.

Below are my suggestions to improve this form’s user experience:

1. Provide specific instructions so  users will know what is expected from them. This will prevent confusion and frustration when they submit the form and get errors. In this case, tell users they need to enter the full zip code.

Image showing improve form help text

2. Use AJAX to load the appropriate additional 4 digit zip code by combining the user’s address and 5 digit zip code. There are some free Javascript “ready to use” scripts that any developer can grab and use.

Online petitions are a powerful tool, but used unwisely and you will loose your users and their voice. Try to make the user experience while using those tools enjoyable and you will gain their trust and confidence and gain returning customers.

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