Paranoia and Web App Design

From the FreshBooks blog:

Let me tell you a little story about a restaurant I love.

The restaurant is Churrasco Villa (beware the audio). I like them because they are fast, the quality is always good, their meals are nutritious, their facility is clean, their staff courteous and I can collect a take out dinner when I need to (usually 3-4 times per month). It’s the kind of neighborhood restaurant that always has people in the take out line and most of their seating capacity is full.

A few weeks ago I was deliriously hungry. You don’t have to spend much time around me to learn I eat every 3-4 hours and the wheels start to fall off if I have to wait much longer than that. So I called up the take out line and ordered.

When I went and picked up my food, I asked if I could sit at an unused table near the door and quickly eat my meal. The take out person said no. I then offered to tip the wait staff even though they would not be serving me – just for the quick use of that area and because I thought that might be the issue. The answer? No. And guess what? Now I’m mad.

As I quietly turned way from the counter I asked myself, “how did I turn so quickly from loving this place to being SO mad at it?” I was so mad I wanted to tell everyone what a dump it was. The trouble was I knew that was untrue…my rational mind still knew I loved the place.

So what happened? Clearly the staff at the take out window have been given some kind of policy that runs something like this: you can’t eat in if you order take out. Fair enough! The trouble is, how often do people really ask to do that? Once a month? Once a quarter? I’m willing to bet I looked awfully hungry when I collected my food, and as a regular customer, could they not cut me a break? Sure they could, the trouble is businesses fear the worst when they open the door to something like this because they fear it will be abused – the reality is they shouldn’t be afraid. Few people abuse your business and your policies and this fact is true of web applications too.

Inevitably when you are designing a web app or a website you will think of a scenario where a user can – in small way – abuse your site or game your system. It might be a really small thing like not entering a valid email address then they sign up. To prevent this you may force them to validate their email address before they can access their account. In theory you convince yourself that you are acting in your own best interest. The truth is you are not.

Trust your users and don’t worry about the small percentage of abusers – they won’t act ethically no matter what you do, so don’t invest your time trying to change them. The fact is very few people will abuse your sign up form, and invariably it takes more time to develop a form so that people can’t “trick” you. Also, designing and developing with a paranoid state of mind almost always adds a barrier to entry (i.e. “I have to check my email to get started? What a pain…forget it.”) that will get in the way of ethical users who want to use your service. These barriers will slow adoption and cost you in the long run.

4 thoughts on “Paranoia and Web App Design

  1. Wow, I can’t believe I’ve never bumped into you at Churrasco. Their hot sauce is awesome…

    I think the other lesson here is to understand your business costs. For most restaurant businesses the wait staff and dish washing are a substantial cost component of the business. If you can get someone to pre-order their food and eat out of take-out containers you should be saving money. The whole fast food industry evolved from this trend, and most even expect you to clean up you’re table too.

  2. Hot sauce good🙂

  3. Your site is interesting. We got the information about your site. Even We have a similar site as would like to give some information about our site…..The big money goes to those companies with superior marketing operations. Entrepreneurial companies of today must evolve from being sales oriented to being marketing oriented in order to now win the consumer……more information click the link marketing

  4. I do not agree at all. Every time I have not built proper checks or validations in my web forms I have been burned badly. The average web user is either dumb or unreasonably impatient and should not be “trusted” to properly fill in valid data without specific instruction or validation forcing their data to validate.

    Test this theory. Go set up a simple web form and collect the results for a month. It doesn’t matter if that form is targeted at 5th graders of it is targeted at Harvard grads; the results you see will either surprise or scare you.

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