We all make mistakes!

Have you noticed that people act differently when they don’t know what they’re doing?

Imagine walking into a room full of your friends or family. You probably just walk in and sit down or grab a drink depending on how you feel, and there would be very little other conscious thought process. However, imagine walking into a room where you’re surrounded by much higher level professionals to you, in a very formal networking event where you’re trying to get a new job.. suddenly every new decision can seem daunting and you begin second guessing everything, freaking out at the thought of doing something wrong.

People make more mistakes when they’re stressed

There’s a few reasons why this affects application design:

  • High-stake actions (forms etc) attract higher levels of stress

  • People who make mistakes will blame the application, not themselves

  • People rely on intuition to make quick decisions, and intuition is affected by stress hormones


There’s two ways of looking at why this is an this issue.


A person who doesn’t understand what to do will become flustered and will not enjoy the experience. They won’t spread the message to others to use your system and they won’t return, plus we may have ruined their plans or their day a little bit.


People who don’t know what to do will make mistakes, provide incorrect data for reporting, mess up our algorithms and break our fantastic products! They will also need more functionality to get them back to the correct part of the application or process.

How to prepare for people to make mistakes

The advice here is to prepare for people to make mistakes, even if you’ve done everything that you can to prevent it happening in the first place.

1. work out what ‘intuitive’ really means to your specific audiences

2. predict or review common mistakes and provide clarity and/or redirects


Step 01

Understand your audience, and what they want to do

This is when you need to refer back to your personas and user journeys. Understanding which pages they will want to see, and in which order will mean that you can provide the correct ordering of pages in your application. Refer back to your personas, and then to the journey maps that you created and test your system step by step to make sure the order is what the audience expects as this is what they will try and force the application to do.

How to create a persona

How to create a user journey


Step 02

Change any wording that is open to interpretation

Generally this refers mainly to titles and buttons as that’s how most people scan through a site. A ‘quit’ button may seem straightforward but write a quick list of what that could mean and then see if you still think it’s clear, for example, does ‘quit’ mean:

  • Save what you’ve done and return to a previous screen

  • Quit and lose any changes that you’ve made

When people are deciding which button to press, they will have other external stresses happening, for example their boss maybe pushing them to finish a task. We also know that people feel a pressure when filling in forms as they have a responsibility to do it correctly for the next person in the process, knowing that by making a mistake would cause problems up the chain.

Changing the title of these buttons to a much more clear decision is a fast and easy way to help, for example:

Save and quit’ or ‘Cancel changes’.


Step 03

Remove the amount of options

There have been various studies that all conclude the same two conflicting facts;

  • People believe they want more choice

  • End results are higher when there are fewer choices.

This is due to the fact that the brain can only store and compare the information of around 3 or 4 complex choices, or maybe up to 7 if the choices are super simple. The closer the options are to each other the harder it becomes to see a clear difference and therefore make a decision.

If you’ve tried to be helpful by creating more buttons to explain actions such as ‘approve this part and continue’, ‘approve all and close’, ‘approve some and close’, try simplify the amount of options or make them more distinct otherwise people will abandon the task for fear of making a mistake.


Step 04

Provide redirects for every single mistake that you know for a fact will happen

When you run through the website or application in the order that you know people will attempt, find any of those areas where they could get lost and provide a redirect back onto the correct path.

  • Often there are decisions out of our control that mean a page doesn’t fit the journey. I’ve found that this usually happens when a client needs a piece of content to fit into one section of the site due to the structure of the company, but we know that it’s a form that people expect to see from the homepage. In these instances provide either - a new section of the site where all actions are complete such as an ‘Online services’ section and link to it from the client’s chosen places plus the customer chosen places, or, on any of the pages where you’d expect to see the form - provide a clear link to the correct section. This way everyone wins.

  • The 404 error page is well known with tech-savvy people but not with everyone. They work well in the sense that they appear when we can’t find a page but they can work so much harder for customers. Provide a search box or list of most common pages needed in the site so that this page becomes a redirect and shows the system is helpful.