Monday, September 24, 2007

States of Login

More on sign-in usability ...

"In the 60’s television show, Get Smart, the opening credits have the lead character, secret agent Maxwell Smart, entering the his agency’s headquarters. He progresses through a series of doors, unlocking each to get deeper into the secure facility. This is similar to how many login procedures currently work.

In my recent post, The Sign-in Travesty, one reader, Ron, talked about his frustration with’s frequent login requests. It’s not unusual for a user, when shopping on Amazon, to need to sign in even though the site has clearly demonstrated they are aware of the user’s identity.

One thing Ron said really jumped out at me:

… the user is either signed in or logged out, there’s nothing in between…

This is a desirable way to think of Amazon’s security. Unfortunately, it doesn’t match how the site works. It works more like the secret headquarters where Maxwell Smart works.

On Amazon (and other sites), there are multiple levels of security, each intended to protect the user from an unintentional breach or fraudulent use of their private information. The user proceeds through each level, as necessary.

At first glance, there are 3 levels of security:

Level 0: Amazon doesn’t know who you are (no cookie).
Level 1: Amazon knows you from a cookie. It’s how they know what books to recommend, what credit card use for 1-click.
Level 2: Amazon wants to reveal something that only you should know, such as your address or your shipping history.

The designers at Amazon have cleverly created more than a either-you’re-signed-in-or-you’re-logged-out perspective.

If looking to simplify the design, one could ask, “Why not combine level 1 with level 2?” Simplifying is always good, but there’s information you want to protect and there’s information that Amazon deems is harmless if someone other than you boots up your machine and visits their site. The separation in the two levels helps Amazon keep the user experience feeling personal, while preventing accidental privacy violations.

However, this more sophisticated model comes with a price. We can see this in the normal interaction of the site.

A user brings up the site and is greeted with their personalized banner."    (Continued via UIE Brain Sparks)    [Usability Resources]

Amazon Personalized Banner - Usability, User Interface Design

Amazon Personalized Banner


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