'Your password is invalid': Improving website password practices

January 31, 2012

Internet users are increasingly asked to register with a user name and password before being able to access the content of many sites. In their upcoming Ergonomics in Design article, "A Passport to UX - Design of Password Practices," human factors/ergonomics researchers Soolmaz Moshfeghian and Young Sam Ryu identify impediments to efficient password creation and provide design strategies for enhancing the user experience.

Because there is no standard method for setting up passwords, each Web site employs its own set of requirements and restrictions. After investigating the pros and cons of design-related features of the requirement and restriction practices of 90 popular Web sites, the authors found that more than half the sites failed to display password guidance prior to the first attempt. Users may receive multiple error messages if their chosen passwords do not line up with system requirements, which can lead to confusion and frustration for the user and increased operating expenses for system administrators.

The authors offer a number of recommendations for Web designers seeking to improve the user experience: Provide users with password requirements prior to their first attempt; use clear and concise language to communicate the password requirements; present, at a minimum, length and character requirements; and avoid placing password requirements in the entry box.

"This study helps us gain more insight into the current state of password practices and helps create more intuitive and empathic interactions," said Moshfeghian. "Intuitive password practices lead to increased user trust and thus user sustainability. In short, the optimal goal is to humanize interfaces, make them as intuitive as possible, and bridge the gap between users and interfaces."

Enhancing user experience through effective password practices can have many benefits. A more user-friendly registration process may produce a larger number of successfully registered accounts, which can translate into increased sales and a more recognizable brand. Fewer failed registration attempts can result in reduced system maintenance, security, and password recovery costs.
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For more information on this article, contact HFES Communications Director Lois Smith (lois@hfes.org; 310/394-1811).

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society is the world's largest nonprofit individual-member, multidisciplinary scientific association for human factors/ergonomics professionals, with more than 4,500 members globally. HFES members include psychologists and other scientists, designers, and engineers, all of whom have a common interest in designing systems and equipment to be safe and effective for the people who operate and maintain them. Watch science news stories about other HF/E topics at the HFES Web site. "Human Factors and Ergonomics: People-Friendly Design Through Science and Engineering"

Plan to attend the HFES 56th Annual Meeting, October 22-26: http://www.hfes.org/web/HFESMeetings/2012annualmeeting.html

Photo credit: Martin Barraud

Human Factors and Ergonomics Society

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