Protip Tuesday #9: Create a No-Fail Environment

Most of the time, we plan a way for users to use our site or app, and design a way for it to be used like that. However, users often misunderstand or take a different path and to us, it feels like they are making “mistakes”. The best way to eliminate user mistakes, is to design them out of the product in the first place.


I thought I would pay homage to one of the great minds of our time this week by applying one of his great ProTips to user experience.

The great mind I am referring to — of course — is Dr. Phil. :)

The most cliché popular New Year’s Resolution is to lose weight, and Dr. Phil always says (or so I’ve heard) that the first step to losing weight is to remove opportunities to fail.

i.e. - Your kitchen cabinets should not contain sweets, junk food, fatty food, etc.

Opportunities to fail are the first step toward failure. If you have the opportunity to eat junk food, it just increases the odds of staying fat. If you don’t, it decreases those odds

Makes sense, yes?

The same is true of usability failures in a digital design.

When building websites we often create opportunities for the user to make mistakes, and then blame the mistakes on the user (never blame the user!). 

Instead, we should prevent mistakes before they happen.


It is a fairly common mistake to provide “help” links within a ‘checkout’ process. Common sense tells us that if someone is having problems paying and we provide links to the answer, they will read the answer and come back to the payment process after.

In reality, the user just quits as soon as they are sent to a new page. In other words, that “common sense” is wrong.

Any link that isn’t part of the payment process only makes the user leave the payment flow, and then they have to “convert” all over again.

Conversion is hard enough the first time!

Instead, we should create a No-Fail Environment. Provide help text directly in the form (not as a link). Choose button text that is informative (“Buy” instead of “OK”). Don’t wait for the user to click “submit” to tell them they forgot something. And NEVER provide links that lead away from the payment flow. Ever.

If the user can’t do anything wrong, they won’t!

Other good examples:

1) If the page requires different options depending on what the user chooses, wait until they make that choice, THEN display the options. Otherwise you have a page full of options that are mostly wrong. 

2) If there several “right” choices, like shipping options, make the default choice the one that will be acceptable to most people. 

3) Auto-populate a form if we already have information from a previous transaction. It prevents typos in emails and addresses. 

4) Think about where links lead… if the user doesn’t expect to go away from your site, let them know before they click! If they will lose unsaved information, let them know! 

5) Make sure it is clear which button the user should click (buy, save, etc.) and which buttons will cause damage (delete, cancel, etc.)

Every mistake a user makes creates a more negative experience. They will blame you for their negativity, and they will be right.

Negative experiences reduce conversion and loyalty and fun. Prevent those mistakes instead of creating features to 'undo’ after it’s already too late.

…and that is why you should create a no-fail environment.

Have a great week!


If you liked this ProTip, try ProTip Tuesday #10: And or But?

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