Let Them Pee: Avoiding the Sign-Up/Sign-In Mobile Antipattern



Originally published in Boxes and Arrows on March 17th, 2013 ⇒

This is an excerpt from the upcoming Android Design Patterns: Interaction Design Solutions for Developers (Wiley, 2013) by Greg Nudelman

Anything that slows down customers or gets in their way after they download your app is a bad thing. That includes sign-up/sign-in forms that show up even before potential customers can figure out if the app is actually worth using.

It’s a simple UX equation

This antipattern seems to be going away more and more as companies are beginning to figure out the following simple UX equation:

Long sign-up form before you can use the app = Delete app

However, a fair number of apps still force customers to sign up, sign in, or perform some other useless action before they can use the app.

Example

The application SitOrSquat is a brilliant little piece of social engineering software that enables people to find bathrooms on the go, when they gotta go. Obviously, the basic use case implies a, shall we say, certain sense of urgency. This urgency is all but unfelt by the company that acquired the app, Procter and Gamble (P&G), as it would appear for the express purposes of marketing the Charmin brand of toilet paper. (It’s truly a match made in heaven—but I digress.)

Not content with the business of simply “Squeezing the Charmin” (that is, simple advertising), P&G executives decided for some unfathomable reason to force people to sign up for the app in multiple ways. First, as you can see in Figure 1, the app forces the customer (who is urgently looking for a place to relieve himself, let’s not forget) to use the awkward picker control to select his birthday to allegedly find out if he has been “potty trained.” This requirement would be torture on a normal day, but—I think you’ll agree—it’s excruciating when you really gotta go.

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Figure 1: Registration Torture: Sign Up/Sign In antipattern in SitOrSquat app.

But the fun does not stop there—if (and only if) the customer manages to use the picker to select the month and year of his birth correctly (how exactly does the app know it’s correct?), he then sees the EULA (Figure 2), which, as discussed in the previous article, End User License Agreement (EULA) Presentation (Boxes and Arrows January 2nd, 2013), is an antipattern all to itself.

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Figure 2: Reading the EULA while wanting to pee should be an Olympic sport.

SitOrSquat’s EULA is long, complex, and written in such tiny font that reading it while waiting to go to the bathroom should be considered an Olympic sport, to be performed only once every four years. Assuming the customer gets through the EULA, P&G presents yet another sign-up screen, offering the user the option to sign in with Facebook, as shown in Figure 3.

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Figure 3: Finally! Sharing my bathroom habits on Facebook has never been easier!

I guess no one told the P&G execs that the Twitter message “pooping” is actually a prank. They must have legitimately thought that they could transfer some sort of social engineering information about the person’s bathroom habits to “achieve and maintain synergistic Facebook connectivity.” I would have to struggle hard to find monumental absurdities from social networking experiments that are equal to this. I can’t imagine that anyone thinks “Finally! Sharing my bathroom habits on Facebook has never been easier!”

Assuming that the user is a legitimate customer looking to use the bathroom for its intended purpose, and not a coprophiliac Facebook exhibitionist, we may hope that he will naturally dismiss the Facebook sign-in screen and come to the next jewel: the Tutorial, shown in Figure 4.

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Figure 4: Tutorial is a sub-par Welcome experience pattern. Here it is another impediment to progress.

SitOrSquat tutorial is an extra screen that provides very little value, other than impeding the use of the app for its intended purpose. (If you need a tutorial, I recommend a much more effective contextual Watermark pattern, which I discuss in Chapter 5 of the Android Design Patterns book.)

50 Taps and 7 Screens of Antipatterns

Note that the entire app outside of registration consists of basically four screens (if you count the functionality to add bathrooms!). However, if you include all the sign-up antipattern screens (including my initial failure to prove that my potty training certificate is up to date, as referred to in Figure 1), it takes seven screens of the “preliminary” garbage before the content you are looking for finally shows up (refer to Figure 5). If you count the number of taps necessary to enter my birthday, that becomes almost 50 taps!

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Figure 5: The Glory of 50 taps needed to get through the Sign Up/Sign In antipattern in SitOrSquat app.

One of my favorite UX people, Tamara Adlin (who coauthored The Persona Lifecycle: Keeping People in Mind During Product Design with John Pruitt) wrote brilliantly: “For Heaven’s Sakes, Let Them Pee.” I believe that never before has this line been so appropriate. In the absurd pursuit of social media “exposure” coupled with endless sign-up screens, with heavy-handed “lawyering up,” P&G executives completely lost sight of the primary use case: letting their customer SitOrSquat.

Long sign-up screens detract from the key mobile use case: quick, simple information access on the go. Overly invasive sign-up/sign-in screens presented up front and without due cause will cause your customers to delete the app.

There is no reason to force anyone to register for anything

When deciding whether to force the customer to perform an action, consider this: If this were a web app, would you force the customer to do this? If you have Internet connection, you can save everything the customer does and connect it back to his device using a simple session token and a guest account. And even if you don’t (for example, while riding in a subway, using airplane mode, and so on), today’s smartphones have plenty of on-board storage you can use for later syncing with your servers when the mobile network eventually becomes available.

This means there is simply no reason to force anyone to register for anything, other than if they want to share the data from their phone with other devices. As a general rule, rather than forcing registration upon download or at the first opportunity, it is much better to allow the customer to save a piece of information locally on the phone without requiring that he log in. Wait until the customer asks for something that requires registration, such as sharing the information with another device or accessing information already saved in his account; at that point completing the registration makes perfect sense.

For example, imagine how absurd the Amazon.com shopping experience would be if the app asked you for your home address, billing address, and credit card upfront—before allowing you to see a single item for sale! Yet entering the home address (where would you like to have the items shipped?) and credit card (how would you like to pay for this?) makes perfect sense during the checkout, after the customer selects a few items and indicates she would like to complete the purchase.

Finally, remember that “Forms suck,” as brilliantly quipped by Luke Wroblewski in his book Web Form Design (Rosenfeld Media, 2008). Only ask for what you strictly need to proceed to the next step and omit extraneous information. (Effective mobile data entry controls and forms is a huge topic to which I devote chapters 10-12 of my upcoming Android Design Patterns book (Wiley March 11, 2013), now available on Amazon.com).

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