User Interface Design – an Amazon Fail

You’d think that a company as big and as dedicated to the online world as could avoid doing dumb things with the design of their user interface. Turn’s out, that’s not true.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Amazon does a great job of user interface design, mostly. It’s just that their latest adventure, revamping their shopping and wish lists, has turned seriously pear-shaped.

The user interface is, as Brenda Laurel says, all there is. It’s the developer’s way of developing a conversation with the user. However clever and artistic, it’s all the user sees. That being the case, it has to shoulder a multitude of burdons. In addition to being pleasant and inviting, it also has to let the user know where they are, what they are doing, and what their options for proceeding are. If the developer gets those wrong, then any other work on the interface is wasted. If the developer changes something in the production version, the user is owed an explanation.

How it used to work
Back in the day, say, September of 2010, if you were looking at an item, and you wanted it, only not just now, you had two clear choices — there were buttons that would place it onto the private Shopping List, or onto the public Wish List. You got to view those via a button on the status bar called Your Lists. That button took you to a page which, among other things, gave you links to the two lists.

Once you got there, you had a relatively compact list with, among other things, a thumbnail picture, the date you added the item, and a checkbox. The picture reminded the visual learner what the item was. The Date Added function never worked, and the checkbox let you mark multiple items for transfer to your shopping cart. You could also delete an item, which reloaded the page and lost your place. If an item was no longer available it was so marked, but the basic information was still shown, so you knew what you had lost and you could go shopping for it somewhere like ebay or craigslist.

Sometime in the last year or so, some small minority of items stopped showing a Shopping List button, and only showed a Wish List button. There was no explanation. Then, suddenly this summer, the Shopping List itself disappeared.

How it works now, I think
Amazon evidently decided they wanted the world to see what it was I was shopping for, so that my grandmother could surprise me by buying me that box of chocolate flavored condoms in time for Valentines Day. The primary, default, list is the Wish List. If I go to the Wish List I have a panel on the left that shows a bunch of personal information, some of which (like Ship-To Address), they assure me, won’t be shown to the general public. Other things, like my birthday, will be. Of course, there are still places out in the Great Wide World that use things like my birthdate (October 14, 1066) and mother’s maiden name (Margaretha Zelle) as security questions. Thanks, Amazon. It also shows a link to the Shopping List. As far as I can tell, that’s the only way to get to that list now until you have updated your preferences. Otherwise, it just Doesn’t Exist.

The list itself now shows a much larger photo, using up precious screen real estate, and some egregious information like how many copies of Red Sonja I wanted to buy, and how many were actually delivered, and what my ‘priority’ was, whatever that means. There is a compact version of the display, that does away with the photos, and gives you one line per record. If an item has been dropped from their inventory, you get a blank photo block, the rating stars, and the date you added it. What you don’t get is any information on what the dropped item was. It’s just gone. Might as well drop the whole entry. I guess I could periodically print out the list. You know, to that paper stuff.

If you dig around in the left hand panel you see a link that lets you manage your lists. That’s where you can change your default list, and also change if you want a list to be public or private. I left the Wish List public, but changed the default to Shopping List. Upon jumping back out into the main catalog, I find that the button still says Wish List, but it stores the item to the Shopping List, as I told it to. So, they’re batting .500 there.

In all of this, there is not, nor has there ever been, a word of warning or explanation. If you go to the Help function and enter “Shopping List”, with the quotes, it says there’s no data. If you enter Shopping List, without the quotes, it tells you how to shop with your Wireless Device, or how to shop with your Kindle, or how to shop with your Kindle, or how to shop with your Kindle. Then it tells you how to shop for your Kindle using your PC. And then it tells you about Wish Lists.

The whole thing is poorly conceived and poorly executed. Users are left wondering where their lists are, and how the new system works — we were just one how to shop with your Kindle away from having the real information scroll off to the next screen. Amazon is usually a pretty savvy company, but they really gooned this one.


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2 Responses to “User Interface Design – an Amazon Fail”

  1. Kurt Says:

    To boil it down, this pissed me off, too. I used to use the Shopping List extensively. It’s still there, it’s just not easy to find and gone from product pages. Amazon’s approach is to implement and let the users get used to the change. Change is good. You will like. We are strong. You are clever. Do not let UI come between us. Let us band forces, drink as comrades, and practice commerce long into the night.

    • FoundOnWeb Says:

      On the lists panel, there’s a link that will let you change the settings for the Wish List to ‘private’. You can also move stuff from list to list. So I made my Wish List private, and shifted all the items from the Shopping List into the Wish List and I’m back where I was, except I have a renamed list.

      I was trying to think of something clever regarding rage against the dark, but all that kept popping into my mind was Douglas Adams comment about HotBlack Desatio’s ship (I think) where, when you pressed the black button, the black indicator would light up black on the black panel to tell you you had done it.

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