The Blame Game in UI Design

I’m running our little Bar Camp Malta survey on Zoomerang. This is the first time I’ve used that service. The setup was a little clunky, but the price–free like the wind and the sea–was right.

Every time I log in to Zoomerang, to tweak the survey or check the results, I’m presented with this message:

Playing the Blame Game

There are so many things wrong with that error message. First, it shouldn’t exist at all. How come every other Web app I use can either auto-magically save my work, or prevent me from logging out without saving?

Second, the language is incredibly waffly. “It does not appear” that I logged out? This implies that the developers can’t really tell for sure if I logged out or not. And then the real problem–I “could” have lost changes? Even if I don’t, surely Zoomerang ought to know whether I lost changes.

Finally, I’m given no recourse but to not log in (‘Cancel’) or proceed in shame (‘Ok’). They don’t even bother to say “to avoid losing your work in the future, be sure to log out”.

It’s classic old-school UI design thinking. Instead of building better software, they just uselessly berate the user.


  1. Just was wondering whether to log the report myself.. Since you had it on your blog, i figured you might have raised a defect against the application. No worries

  2. Yeesh. Not ok, but this kind of thing still happens in all kinds of UI design. The interface for the recently-updated Telus voicemail service was pulling a similar trick, where if you didn’t end your session by pressing star all the way out to the top menu, the new message indicator wouldn’t stop blinking.

    The support rep, in classic Telus fashion, informed me that I was not signing out of the system properly, as I end my sessions by hanging up. We had considerable back and forth and he finally agreed to submit it as a defect. Happily, it’s been fixed, but it’s just not ok to think that a person should perform a meaningless gesture of informing the system that the session is over when the session is de-facto over (the window is closed, the phone is hung up).

  3. Good post.

    Happy to see a follow-up from Brian (on the dev team?) — maybe some companies still care about their customers? To me, that’s definitely one factor that sets successful products apart from their competition.

    The dev budgets seem to have been shaved-down so much that these screens are an afterthought at best most of the time. I recently had the “luxury” of customizing the 404, 500, (etc.) screens for the first time in years. The company goal, however, was to completely track the user’s path rather than give them a good user experience…

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