I was reinstalling windows this weekend, and just as I was getting to my first restart I realized that Microsoft had completely and utterly failed at providing a good user experience during the installation process. You get about 40 minutes in, the computer restarts, and prompts you to enter some ancillary information, in a four step process. The first three steps are easy, you get them all done quickly (??), are ready to go and then… another 20-40 minutes of installation.
The problem is that Microsoft never let us know what we were getting into. They don’t tell you the steps until you’ve already invested half an hour, then they provide a four part installation process, but the data needed and the time taken on each of those steps lead to false expectations for the last step.
Microsoft isn’t alone in this either. I see it all the day in bank forms, contact forms, lead gen forms, and the like. They provide an description of the process in the form of pagination or an index, breaking it down into steps (as they should!) , then halfway through one step takes four times as long, or one step has multiple pages (You put in that apostrophe just to see if I was paying attention, didn’t you?)that the initial pagination doesn’t mention… etc.
Luke Wroblewski warns of exactly this in Web Form Design when he talks about the role of pagination.
“It’s not that giving people a sense of how many steps there are is a bad thing; but we are rarely telling them the truth. One solution is just to avoid the progress indicator altogether and just get people through as fast as possible. The other is to provide a more high-level progress indicator that does not set expectations explicitly”
One solution, as mentioned by Wroblewski, is that used by Amazon.com, where no promise of steps are made, but an overall progress bar is used, indicating the type of information you need to provide.
Another solution is the use of a smarter pagination with subcategories or time estimates that can expand or retract as the process proceeds (though this runs into similar problems as someone extra slow takes twice the estimated time and gets frustrated).
Either way the sentiment is the same:
Let your users know what they’re getting into—and don’t deceive them!