We cannot accept that behavior

I bought some concert tickets online a few days ago. For once I was online and ready as the tickets were going on sale at 10am.

09:58am ? I clicked through a maze of links to finally arrive at a page where it seemed like I’d be able to buy tickets.

09:59am ? I continually refreshed the page until a “buy tickets” button appeared.

10:00am ? Once it finally showed up I clicked the big friendly button and was taken to a page that required even more clicking around before eventually presenting me with an “add to cart” button. Pressing it presented me with this dialog:


10:01 ? I filled in the form as quickly as possible and clicked “join now.” Then I got this error message:


Paaaaaardon me?!?

I stared at my computer screen for a minute sorta wishing it had a face so I could punch it.

10:02am ? As I sat there feeling frustrated, and a little insulted, all the good tickets were being snapped up by people with one word last names like Smith and Baker. Then I had to decide whether to hyphenate my last name or remove the space, trying to anticipate the consequences of the decision for will-call or credit card payments.

10:05am ? I finally purchased my 2 tickets, using an improvised last name. (I can no longer recall what solution I had to use to make it work.) Though I managed to get tickets I was very indignant after being told that my last name was unacceptable. Can you imagine going down to the box office to buy tickets and having the guy behind the counter tell you that he cannot accept your name? That seems absurd! (unless of course you’re shopping from the soup nazi) Yet we encounter rude and insulting behavior from interfaces all the time.

Software has replaced people in so many of our daily transactions, from buying concert tickets to shoes and groceries. Computers bring obvious improvements to the table: they can provide instant comparisons, full feature lists and recommend similar items more easily than a person could. In fact computers could make this a fantastic experience by providing a very quick, very flexible way of choosing the right seat at the right price if they didn’t just focus on just automating the analog transaction, but that’s a whole other blog post. Even in this context of database transactions it's time software started learning some manners and stopped hurling insults whenever we ask it to do something difficult.

If the request is truly impossible, at the very least inform me politely, and tell me what I need to do to make it work. For example, "We're terribly sorry but our system is unable to deal with spaces in names. If you could please remove it we'll sign you right up." That’s probably a bit wordy, but better than "we cannot accept your name" without telling me why, or what I can do to make it acceptable. The best case is for the software to deal with whatever my last name happens to be, fixing the problem for me so that I don’t have to know or care that it’s database can’t accept spaces.

If we want our products to be liked, we need to design them to behave in the same manner as a likeable person.1 Our software should be polite, but more than that it needs to be considerate and take into account our needs and goals.

1 Cooper, Reimann & Cronin. About Face 3. Indianapolis: Wiley, 2007 249-285


Sheethal Shobowale
Oh I can sympathize with you on this! I have had some serious issues with the Live Nation website in the past. Their search functionality is atrocious (especially for a website focused on event information!) I feel this type of frustration so often with online forms. I wrote a couple blog posts this as well: here's one about Teach For America's online job application that was extremely difficult to fill out. I wish more companies did substantial usability testing and then truly improved the experience.
Matt Butler
Although I don't enjoy a two word last name, I am equally frustrated with web sites that decide what you cannot use for things like usernames and password. I almost universally attempt to use the same userid and password on all the places that require registration. Who are they to decide that password can or cannot include punctuation. And of course someone had to expend mental energy coming up with their password rules, and then encoding them into the web site. They're going out of their way to make our lives difficult.
Alan Cooper
But at least now you will enjoy an endless and unstoppable succession of annoying spam emails from LiveNation.com reminding you of concerts you don't care about.
LOL! Terrific post! I can soo relate, as my mother's maiden name begins like yours, which sometimes puts me in the precarious position of having to guess which way the database will accept it in order to prove my identity... Of course to design our databases to be likeable people has more to do with social sciences and psychology, less with technology and bits and bytes... Hmm...
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Ok, great post, but try this: 1. Forget to enter your email address in this form. 2. Enter your intelligent and well-considered comment here. 3. Click the "Post your comment" button below, and get the error page. 4. Click "Return to the original entry". 5. Not have you lost my comment, you've repositioned me at the top of the page!
Stephanie Sawchenko
Just a couple of months before you wrote this I was trying to buy concert tickets on Ticketmaster and experienced similar angst. I was like, how difficult is it to buy tickets for a show? Needless to say the whole experience made me feel really lame and I decided that I won't be buying from that vendor again.
Owen W. Linzmayer
All too common a problem, I'm afraid. Too often engineers code a site's forms to force the user into fitting their info into the engineer's idea of what's logical or makes their job easier for data storage. Yesterday I tried to send an comment to the central bank of Chile using their web site's Contact Us form. When I clicked Send after filling in the form, I got the following error message: "The characters you put are not allowed. Use only capital and small letters; numbers 0 to 9, and common orthographic characters" The error didn't direct me to the field with the disallowed character(s), so I had to guess what was wrong (and look up the definition of orthographic: The art or study of correct spelling according to established usage). Turns out the offending character was a question mark in the Comment field! LOL
Thanks for the article. The most annoying user interfaces I've used is the ones that require a reasonable amount of information, like a comment being 200 words, and then losing it because of they failed a validation routine. This type of user interface has led me to have the practice to enter everything into a text editor first, and cut-n-paste, so I don't have to refill in forms when it is presented with the validation errors.

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