A Choice of Words

We recently worked on overhauling the ecommerce checkout process for a client’s website. A critical part, of course, is collecting credit card information for payment. Now we know, and our client knows, that the credit card is going to be saved to a secure, PCI-compliant database. So in the original draft that came from the designer, that part of the interface was labeled “Add a new credit card.”

Wrong verb.

An ecommerce checkout is the most complicated web process most users ever contend with and the last thing we want to do is distract customers from the task at hand. But that’s exactly what the phrase “Add a new credit card” does to the user.

When an amateur magician says “Pick a card,” it raises unhelpful questions in the audience’s mind: Which card? That one in the middle? Is that his scheme? And when an website instructs the user to “Add a card,” it raises similarly unhelpful questions: Add it to what? Are they saving this? Who’s going to see this?

We changed the wording to focus on the actual task: “Enter your credit card info.” No distractions about the mechanics of programming and storage, just straightforward instructions for the user. It’s not that we’re trying to con our users with misdirection or sleight-of-hand “we’re totally up-front about our data and privacy policies” we just don’t want to annoy and distract them with mechanical details not relevant to their immediate task.

It comes up all the time in interface design. Users want instructions, not technical specifications. Tell users what their job is, not what your job is. They take the card. You do the magic.



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