Designing a "My" Area

  |  March 7, 2002   |  Comments

When bringing users into an 'inner sanctum' where they'll be asked to reveal personal information, make sure they feel safe doing so.

So many sites have "my" areas, whether they are as robust as a "My Yahoo" or as simple as a "my account." Regardless of its features, each of these areas has a similar purpose: to allow users to manage their personal information. Today we will look at a few different ways sites miss their mark and why a poorly designed "my" area could lead to customer drop-off.

Click "OK" to Save. Oops, You've Logged Out!

Do you use MSN? I don't. I hate it. The "my" area is designed very poorly, and I always accidentally log out of the system. On every "edit your profile" page, where you can add or remove content or change your profile, there is an "Update My MSN" button at the top of the screen. Just above it, however, is the "Sign Out" button for Passport. How many times have you accidentally tried to save your profile and inadvertently signed out of the system? The placement of buttons like this needs to be thought out very carefully.

I have a similar problem with sites that use long forms and then present two buttons underneath: "Submit" and "Reset." First off, who in the world actually uses the reset button? Second, you will never get the placement of these buttons correct. Either you are a Windows user and expect the "Submit" button on the left, or you are a Mac user and expect it on the right. Either way, half your users are bound to accidentally erase everything they have just done by pressing "Reset" by mistake.

Enter Your Credit Card on the Home Page...

Last year, I had to renew one of my domain names. I went to the Network Solutions site and clicked on the area in which I could renew a domain name. The renewal process was one page long. On that page, I was asked for the domain name, my Network Solutions account name and password, my credit card information, and how many years I wanted to renew. Simple enough, right? I am sure that the product manager for renewals thought that this page was a great design, because it eliminated the confusion of a multipage process and would therefore reduce drop-offs. But the company made a mistake that caused me to call and renew by phone rather than use the Web site. What was the mistake? The renewal process did not emotionally feel right to me.

By the time any major e-commerce store such as or asks for my most personal information (such as a credit card number), I have been emotionally prepared for it. I have signed into my account. I have entered the inner sanctum of pages that other people don't see. I have seen my account information on pages that felt (and looked) more secure. Only then am I prompted to answer personal questions. And by then, I am emotionally secure enough to do so.

Network Solutions didn't understand this. The company expected all the information at once. I didn't even have to log into my account. Instead, just providing my domain name was enough. Could I renew someone else's domain name by accident? On the page where I was supposed to enter my credit card number, I didn't see my domain name or my name. I wasn't prepared mentally and emotionally, feeling that I was in the safe place where I could reveal personal information about myself.

Welcome to the Inner Sanctum

Here is what I propose as a design solution. Design all of the "my" pages on your site to look different from the nonpersonalized pages on your site. Perhaps the top navigation bar is a slightly different color. Perhaps there is an additional element on the page that only exists in the personalized, inner-sanctum, logged-in pages. This makes your users feel more secure about your site and understand viscerally that what they are seeing is just for them. If you expect information such as a credit card number, you need to have a dialogue with the user. The dialogue goes like this: "Jack Aaronson, this is the page you enter your credit card information into to renew your Web site Please enter it now." Of course, this doesn't have to be the actual copy, but it should be the effect of the copy on the page. Otherwise, your users will feel insecure about giving you their information.

When designing areas of your site that are personalized or ask for personal information, make sure that the user perceives these pages as different from the rest of your site. They should see them as pages that are for their eyes only. Pay close attention to where page functionality, such as "Save My Settings," and global functionality, such as "Log Out," are placed on the pages. Otherwise, everyone will be logging off your system by accident.

Your Favorite and Least Favorite "My" Sites

In the coming weeks, I would like to put together a survey of the "Best and Worst 'My' Sites." So email me with your favorites, ranking them from 1 to 10 on usability, design, and accuracy (e.g., recommendations, etc.).

Until next time...


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Jack Aaronson

Jack Aaronson, CEO of The Aaronson Group and corporate lecturer, is a sought-after expert on enhanced user experiences, customer conversion, retention, and loyalty. If only a small percentage of people who arrive at your home page transact with your company (and even fewer return to transact again), Jack and his company can help. He also publishes a newsletter about multichannel marketing, personalization, user experience, and other related issues. He has keynoted most major marketing conferences around the world and regularly speaks at and other major industry shows. You can learn more about Jack through his LinkedIn profile.

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