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User Experience Gone Wrong – United Airlines Easy Check-in Online

While checking in for a United Airlines flight today using their web site Easy Check-in Online system today, I noticed they made an “improvement” to the check-in sequence. In the normal flow of reviewing seats, I was taken to this screen which “conveniently” offers me the opportunity to upgrade to first class at a cost of $154 each way (there was no way to avoid this screen):UAL ECO screenshot

The disturbing part is how the buttons were designed (which I’ve circled in red). I have two choices: to accept or decline the offer to pay UAL more money for the flight I’ve already paid for. As you can see, the button to accept the offer (the “continue” button) is far more prominent than the button to skip the offer. They designed it to look like the only “button” available with the other choice styled as just a text link. In addition, the button design takes up more area on the screen than the text link, and the blue color of the button gives it very high contrast against the white background of the page. These design features strongly draw one’s attention to the button and scream out to the user “click me!”, which I dutifully did! I still had the option to back up at that point without my credit card being charged, but what a great way to piss off your customers.

Keep in mind that the way most people navigate web sites is by “muddling through” in the words of Steve Krug (Don’t Make Me Think) . From this perspective the design of the web page is well executed. UAL will get a large number of customers to click the button they want them to. But what a nasty thing to do!

This is a clear example of good design used to deliberately confuse the user. I understand that economic times are hard, and no doubt the purpose of this web design decision was to increase revenue for United. Good for the corporation, bad for their web site visitors.

If you are familiar with the UAL web site, you probably recognize that the situation is even more insidious, as they generally design the buttons you want to click with the same style as the offending “continue” button. A user will encounter that button style numerous times during each web site experience and will be well trained to look for and click them. So of course I’m going to click the only button that looks like that on the web page.

No doubt the label on the button, “continue”, was carefully chosen as well. That’s a rather innocuous label. If they had labeled the button “accept this offer” or “upgrade”, many fewer people would click on it.

This is a great example of well executed design. Unfortunately the design is intended entirely to benefit the corporation at the expense of the user. So I give UAL an “A” for design and and “F” for the User Experience.

Yes times are tough. But the user should come first. Without customers, United has no business at all.