Bad Defaults

Do you remember the Dan Akroyd series of sketches on the original Saturday Night Live (SNL) where he played a character named "Leonard Pinth Garnell" and introduced us to various forms of BAD performances? Leonard Pinth-Garnell

We came across a default action on a travel website that made us think about "Bad Defaults" and why user interfaces need to have "Smart" defaults.

When typing in the three digit airline code for Oakland, CA "OAK" the system shown seems to try to "drive" me to the Norman Mineta San Jose Airport (about 35 miles south).

Not good. When expert users know the industry standard codes (and a lot of people know the airport codes for the airports that they frequent) the interface needs to work with the user, not against them.

What are "Smart Defaults?" The idea is simple: Why not use as much information as possible to create a more friendly interactive experience by making calculated assumptions about your user? Using geo-location algorithms based upon IP address For the travel site, it could default to the closest airport.

Why not change the information displayed based upon your analysis of census data for that location? Is it in Beverly Hills, CA or in the middle of nowhere GA? You can modify the experience to best match what you know about the user's location.

What is the default sort order in your app or website? Is the the same for every list that you present to your users? (ascending alpha?). Why not take the time to think about the lists that your application presents and the actions that your user might be taking with that list.

Your application should attempt to present this information in a manner by which the most important, or most likely to be modified or viewed, information appears with little or no user interaction (eg. On the top of the first page of the list).

Remember that most people will probably not change a default value, so smart default designers can use people's tendencies to leave defaults as they are to the advantage of your site of application.

This is just one example of the possible return on investment (ROI) on resources spent on Usability and User-Centered Design. The Usability People help your organization become as successful as possible. Take advantage of this ROI by contacting The Usability People today.