Paying tax the fun way!

Well, not exactly. While the UK’s beloved HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) has come a long way with its online services, they seemed to have stopped short of providing a good user experience.

The problem appears to be that us technologists are very enthusiastic about deciding exactly what constitutes a user error, and punishing transgressors appropriately for them. So, for example, let’s consider the following example: 

Error message repremanding user for failing to make a choice when only one option is displayed

Users do this all the time. There is no choice to be made and the empty radio button does not provide an adequate visual cue that something needs to be done. The Next button was enabled, so being as bad a user as the next when it isn’t my own design I clicked on it and received the ticking-off you see above. I find it very hard to believe that it is really necessary to force the user to make a selection, but disabling the Next button would be an obvious alternative to dealing with a user error. That would require client-side scripting but an equally acceptable alternative would be to select the first item listed by default. But the biggest failing is the lack of empathy that designer of this interaction is suffering from. How does he or she think the customer (taxpayers are customers, right?) is going to react to receiving an error message that appears to deliberately intended to cause frustration?

But there’s more. On the same site, but in a different form, users are required to enter the cash equivalent for tax purposes of a company-supplied car. For this purpose, they are invited to visit a web page that does the calcuation and then to enter the result into the form. It’s a bit clunky, but that is not the only problem. Here is the calculator result:

Page showing cash equivalent of car with a comma as the thousands separator

Notice the comma pound sign and the comma? Trying to copy and paste these figures – from the tool that HMRC recommends – causes a message like this:

Error message stating that the input field must be numeric (it contains a comma output by the calulator)

The really galling thing here is that it is very much easier to write code to ignore unwanted commas than it is to complain about it and force users to put it right. And that really is the smoking gun in most of the empathy-deficient cases I see: the designer has become fixated on handling the error rather than working around it in the interests of good user experience. Sigh.




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