Avoid Confusing UX: Today’s Unsubscriber, Tomorrow’s Buyer

Confusing UXNot every product is right for every person. Or, sometimes, a product is right for someone but it isn’t the right time. In those cases, good design helps keep the door open for people to rediscover the product when the timing improves. That usually means making any goodbyes as painless as possible. Recently I got a vacation rental email from HomeAway (for reasons unknown, as I don’t believe I’ve ever rented through them). In general I try not to subscribe to many marketing lists unless it’s a product I buy very frequently, so I clicked to take my name off this one. I was brought to the screen below: 

An incredibly confusing notification preference center.
An incredibly confusing notification preference center.

So here’s a question: How am I supposed to know which one to unsubscribe from?

Well, I’ll tell you how: I went back to the email and cross-referenced which site had sent it to me. For good measure, I unsubscribed from the other US-based sites as well, just in case. But this is definitely not an easy or intuitive unsubscribe experience. Making users take multiple additional steps to complete a simple transaction is not a way to build loyalty or incite delight.

Some people might call this a dark UX pattern–the deliberate creation of a confusing or misleading experience in order to push people along a behavior path they may not have chosen. Aside from the fact that the term is a bit grandiose, I’m also not convinced that these designers intended to thwart the unsubscribe function. It could simply be poor design that in an attempt to clarify actions makes them harder to perform.

Regardless of the why, the fact is that this is an unnecessarily confusing user experience that may negatively impact how someone views a brand or product. If it’s hard for me to unsubscribe from an unwanted email now, I might be more reluctant to use that product at a future time knowing I might get stuck on the email list again. A principle I think worth keeping in mind is that sometimes it won’t be the right time for a particular person to want your product or experience; in that case, your job is to say goodbye gracefully to sow the seeds for a future relationship.