The Mythical User

Taking the mystery out of User-Centered Design

Dominate the Market, Not Your Users

on 25 July, 2013

PHoto of an orchidI work a lot in web application design. I also live in the bay area of California, so I’m surrounded by creative, colorful people and subcultures. So, every time I see a Submit button on a form, I twitch a little bit.

Let’s talk about language here. Language is the primary communication method we humans use. Secondary to language are visual cues, like “body language” in-person, color in visual medium, and audial cues like sound effects. Language is really freakin’ important when we want to get a point across, sell something, or build relationships.

Pay attention, lead generation and conversion designers and product managers. This is MOST crucial to you.

What is a user interface but a relationship between your company and all of its customers? Because of this, every single word in your interface is critical. Every single word builds your brand. So why, then, are so many great companies using the word “Submit” in their form buttons?  It’s domineering, vague, and cold. I can only think of a couple of companies that would want to vaguely, coldly dominate their customers and I’m betting yours isn’t one.

As best I can tell, Submit as a button label comes from the very earliest days of the web. When we started being able to write programs that captured user-entered information, and submit them to a server for processing and storage, we labeled the button literally.  It submits information from a source to a destination.  Back then, mostly only techies were doing this stuff, and maybe no one had thought it through from a user perspective. I don’t remember. Sadly, this established a precedent.

Then the WYSIWYG web editors came about, and they codified this behavior by having the default wording when you create a button be “Submit”. A bad habit was born and websites have been whacking their users over the head with it ever since.

Why do you make a form?  Because the user has information and you want the user to give that information to you. Bonus points to you if the user is highly motivated to give you that information – that makes your job easier. But after overcoming all their objections in order to get them to type stuff into fields on a page, you have a golden opportunity to build your brand, reinforce the message that got them to fill out the form, or reassure them about what will happen to their data.

Instead of saying “Submit to us, you dastardly supplicant!”, why don’t you say something descriptive and friendly like this:

  • Get your free account
  • Download your package
  • Buy now/Add to Cart/ Get One
  • Send to our secure servers
  • Preview your awesome thing
    or even just
  • Finish (if you absolutely can’t find something to convey the value they’re about to get when they click)

If you are using Submit buttons in your interface, you’re insulting your users, either by dominating them or by not caring enough about them to think through the little details. So spend the extra thirty seconds to think of a good button label – it’ll pay off in conversions, user loyalty and goodwill.


Today’s Interesting Link:

typeconnection.com – This is  one of my favorite websites to send people to when they say they’re interested in typography.  It gives you a font, and lets you choose fonts that pair well with it, then “send them on a date” to see if they’re compatible. At the end it explains why you were or weren’t right, and in the process of playing a game you learn more about typography than you would sitting through a class.

 Today’s Usability Quote:

 “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.”  – Henry Ford

Today’s Music To Design To:

Halou has an album called We Only Love You, and I love it. It’s got energetic, creative beats and soundscapes, with airy vocals and sweet lyrics. It’s just ambient enough to serve as background music, or you can crank it up and let it drive you to design with circles and whitespace, crisp details and elegant simplicity.

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