Help your users with change

Emily Dela Cruz
Oct 2 2017

One morning I walked down some stairs amongst a crowd of people and into my typical subway station. Since my body’s usually on autopilot at 6am, it’s used to seeing a lane of turnstiles. But on this particular morning, my brow furrowed in confusion and my body halted at the presence of a gaping empty entrance. The station was under construction – things were in flux.

I looked around to where others were tapping their Presto cards (the transit payment system in Toronto), but everyone was in a bit of a kerfuffle. After a few seconds, we all saw a small green box attached to the brick wall off in the corner of the station.

A communal nod of understanding ensued. Our journeys continued.

The morning after everyone was met with a paper sign pointing to the Presto machine which had been moved to a wall closer to the station entrance.

Ahhhh…there’s the machine.

The simple way-finding change made transit users’ experience much less confusing.

Recently, we ran into a change-related issue on one of our projects – Farmlink, a place to find or share farm opportunities & resources.

We needed to make more of the user profile fields mandatory to fill out.
If a user did not have these fields completed, their account would be temporarily paused, but there would be a notification to let them know they needed to fill in more fields.

We pushed the code up to the live server…and then the complaints started coming in.

The general theme was:

I’ve filled out all the required fields and I’m still not able to activate my account.


Was our code working and submitting the correct info to the database? Yup.
Alright, so are all the required fields actually filled out by the users? Nope.
Hmm, so what’s going on? We’ve gotten a couple emails, so something’s up?

When we get even a single email from a user or client we’re quick to jump in to help, so the fact that multiple users emailed in was an alarm for sure.

Here’s what the form’s error message looked like at first:


So, we added a list of questions that when clicked on, jumped to the empty fields.

But another user email came in – same problem. We still weren’t being clear enough.


So, we made the backgrounds of the empty fields red too.

Note the change from Oops to Sorry as well. We thought the newer copy was less alarming, and didn’t make it look like we were pointing a finger at the user.

After this iteration, the emails stopped. Success.

If we ever make another significant change to profiles again, we’d probably alert users upon login. Maybe with a cute and helpful “Hey, something’s-changed-since-you-last-visited…” annotation/bubble. It’s all a learning process.

We use tools like TrackDuck to allow users to give us feedback about their experience. Realistically you can’t have your eyes on every single pixel of your site, or every single person using it (also, that’s creepy and problematic for clear legal reasons…). Also, it’s nice to hear what your user community has to say – each piece of feedback is informative, and only helps to refine your product.

Your users when they make it through ch-ch-changes 🙂