Good Design Supports User Ability

Good Design Supports User AbilityWhen you begin to design a website, one thing to keep at the forefront of every choice you make is “What do I want my users to do?” Whether it is consuming content, making a purchase, or sharing information, every website has an intended behavior that it asks its users to do. Your job as a designer is to make that behavior as easy as possible.

B.J. Fogg defines ability as a function of the scarcest resource a user has. That resource might be time (something that takes hours won’t be within the ability of someone who only has five minutes), skills (something that requires coding isn’t within the ability of someone who doesn’t know how), or information.

I recently found myself purchasing health insurance on the Massachusetts Health Connector with my ability as a user hampered by a lack of information.

Actually shopping for the policy wasn’t too hard. I entered the requested information about my household members, then was able to compare available policies. I chose the one I wanted, added it to my shopping cart, and checked out.

Then I was asked for two things: Payment, and eligibility documents. There were no instructions on how to provide either one of these.

I was eventually able to figure out how to make a payment thanks to a combination of Google and trial-and-error. As for eligibility documentation, here is what the Health Connector tells me:

Where's the action?
Where’s the action?

It tells me which documents I need to provide, and by when, but nowhere is there information about where to send the documents. I don’t know if I need to provide a hard copy by mail, scan something to upload, or some other transmission medium. Because of a lack of information, my ability to complete this behavior is hampered.

It was particularly disappointing to come across poor design in the Health Connector because getting appropriate coverage is both important and difficult, especially for people with lower health literacy. The Massachusetts exchange is also often cited as one of the better ones, since it was one of the first and most utilized.  It’s concerning that what is supposed to be a good version of the software has such a glaring ability problem.

If you’re designing a website, ask yourself:

  • What do I want my user to do?
  • If I were the user, what would I need to know, have, or get to perform this action?
  • How can I as the designer provide those resources?

When designers don’t take this perspective, users end up deprived of the ability to take the right action.