Select Box Usability Madness | May 30, 2006
Select boxes are difficult to use at the best of times, especially when you have to navigate down a very long list, such as a list of countries. Luckily, information architects normally order their lists alphabetically. This helps support known-item searching, as you can quickly scroll down to the entries starting with the same letter as the one you’re looking for, making things easier to find.
I was signing up for a new AIM account recently, and had to fill in my country details. This was the first usability gotcha in my mind as I really couldn’t see why an IM service would need to know which country I’m from. However I let that one slide as a clicked on the select box, and was presented by the following screen.
I’m based in England, which is part of Great Britain as well as the United Kingdom. However most websites use the United Kingdom, so this was the label I was searching for.
Some companies with a large UK user-base add a United Kingdom option near the top of the list, usually below the United States. This makes a lot of sense as there is no point forcing people to scroll down a long list of options, if the majority of visitors are from one or two countries. I did a quick scan for the United Kingdom at the top of the list, but couldn’t see the option, so assumed the user base was more diverse.
As a side note, it would be a nice usability touch if sites checked your IP address, made an educated guess at your location, and displayed this as the first option. Just a thought!
If this was a short list, I’d probably scroll down to the entries starting with my letter of choice. However as this was a long list, many people would type the first letter of the word they are looking for and be taken to that point in the list. I dutifully typed in “U” and expected to be deposited somewhere near the United Kingdom option. This is where things started to get a little confusing.
As you can see from the image, there was no United Kingdom option. Knowing that some people list it as Great Britain, I typed in “G” to see if was there. After a quick scan I couldn’t see Great Britain, but I did notice a listing for the United Kingdom.
You may think this was a small issue, as I did end up finding my country. However the whole process left me feeling a little confused, annoyed and mistrustful of the application.
I was expecting an alphabetically ordered list, and in most places that’s exactly what I had. However the UK was in the alphabetical position of Great Britain, despite being listed as the United Kingdom. I was happy to stuggle through, but that wouldn’t be the case for everybody.
Looking down the list, I noticed a lot of similarly annoying anomalies. For instance, in the first screenshot you’ll notice that the United Arab Emirates (commonly known as the UAE) is listed in the alphabetical position for Arab. Similarly the Netherlands (or Dutch) Antilles are listed in the position of just Antilles. In the second screenshot, Saint Vincent is listed in the “V” position, and in the third screenshot, Micronesia is listed under “F” for Federated States of Micronesia.
It looks like somebody has tried to be extremely clever with the naming convention on this list and ended up making the whole thing confusing for everybody.
Posted at May 30, 2006 7:12 PM