September 4, 2017

Thanks for Calling Wells Fargo

Due to one of the (many!) online security breaches, my Simple bank account numbers became compromised and required me to close-and-reopen my bank account. (Why can’t account numbers be re-generated on-demand?) During the process of closing, and re-opening my Simple account, I opened a backup Wells Fargo account.

Together We'll Wait on HoldTogether We'll Wait on Hold

I was able to set up my account by walking into an impressive, original Wells Fargo branch building. About sixty minutes later, I was all set up. This was not my first Wells Fargo account. As a child, I opened a savings account with First Union. First Union merged into Wachovia, which merged into Wells Fargo during the recent financial crisis.

However, as a new customer”  Wells Fargo did not have historical purchasing data for me. The bank was terribly nervous letting me spend my money. Instead, quietly block my debit card and let me find out when I tried to buy something next.

Wells isn’t the only bank that proactively deactivates customers cards when they suspect fraud. Anyone can get their card blocked. Just buy two tanks of gas and some shoes. Most financial institutions have evolved to text customers the minute the anti-fraud algorithms raise a flag.

For Wells Fargo customs, you should receive receive a text message or call to confirm your recent purchases. Unfortunately for me, these alerts never came through. Instead, when I swiped, and my purchase was declined, I called the number on the back of your card. Which goes something like this:

  1. Call 1–800-TO-WELLS, their general line.
  2. Are prompted to say your account or card number. Though, using the keypad does work. Saying your card number out loud in public is incredibly insecure.
  3. Are prompted to say (again, not great if you’re in public) the last four digits of your Social Security Number.
  4. Are prompted to say (seriously?) your debit card PIN.
  5. Reach the main menu. The IVR has no knowledge of your blocked card.
  6. Say representative
  7. The IVR responds: I understand you want to speak to a banker but first, can you tell me a little about what you’re calling about.”

Calling is a last-result option. Relied on only when online options for managing my account have been exhausted. If I use a secret trap-door word like agent,’ representative,’ or operator,’ I mean business.

  1. Sheepishly say my card has been declined.’
  2. Listen as the IVR responds: I think you’re calling about Wells Fargo products, is that right?”
  3. Sigh, exasperatedly, because even though that isn’t technically why I’m calling, I’m not going to correct you. 
  4. Say Yes.
  5. The first 3 seconds of their 30-second-loop song starts playing.
  6. Hear We’re currently experiences unusually high call volumes right now, press 1 to return to the automated system.”

Wells Fargo is always experiencing a huge cal volume, no matter what time of day, day of the week, or financial shitstorm is currently happening. 

Companies who state that they are experiencing a higher than usual call volume are unconsciously expressing two things. First, that their products or services are unreliable, confusing, or in some state that requires their customer to regularly call in. And two, that they are chronically understaffed.

  1. Wait for 15–20 minutes for a banker to answer the phone, unaware of who I am, what my account needs help, or why I’m calling. All of my details are reverified, making my time spent with your lovely IVR a waste.
  2. Explain that I need my card unblocked, as I’m trying to buy dinner, and this half-hour card-declining world I’m in is quite frustrating and embarrassing.
  3. Listens as the banker spends 2–3 minutes looking for the unblock card’ option on their poorly designed backend.
  4. The banker then says, Let me verify some transactions here” At which point they begin to list all the transactions made in the last 3–5 days.
  5. Hear: Okay, Mr. Carlson, you card is in the queue to be unblocked. It should be ready to use within 90 seconds.”
  6. I politely, but quickly hangup while they say Thanks for being a Wells Far—”
  7. I wait with the merchant a minute and a half. Oddly, instead of waiting for the 90 seconds before telling me the card is operational, they offload that delay to me. If I try to use my card in that 90-second window, it resets the block, and I have to call back in. Nightmarish.

Wells Fargo makes an embarrassing, nerve-wracking experience worse by not informing anyone ahead of time that I’m calling about a declined card. They have blocked my card so often; I’m surprised their system doesn’t call to alert you (via text, email or phone call) when it happens. Many Wells Fargo bankers and phone reps have told me that I should receive alerts and ways to allow access without needing to call. Unfortunately, it has never happened.

Forcing customers to wade through 20 minutes hold times to make a purchase is criminal. If you can’t implement an automated system for clearing transactions, have a dedicated queue for those with blocked cards.

Wells Fargo is the largest bank in the world, and with it comes the expectations that they can proactively manage security and fraud concerns. IVR is just as important to design as your online banking experience. It’s another touchpoint, and should be considered carefully.

August 22, 2017

Dark Patterns in Notifications

Recently, I’ve spent a good amount of time clearing notifications from my iOS lock screen and Notification Center. More email notifications and push alerts pour down every minute, covering everything from what Millennials are killing next’ to a selfie a friend-of-a-friend posted on Instagram.

Much of this rift raft can be seemingly blamed on veiled attempts for companies to boost engagement numbers. Let’s look at Facebook’s Yammer knock-off, known as Facebook Workplace.

My employer tried Facebook Workplace for roughly one week before quietly abandoning it. Facebook, seemingly feeling lonely at night, began to postmark periodic emails to me containing recent“ notifications. Again, perhaps this behavior would be acceptable if team mates were @mentioning me. One could indeed stretch the logic to include summary updates from groups I’m a member of. (Though drip notification campaigns to re-engage users seem dubious at best.)

No, no, no. The notifications Facebook emails to all our employees are their own platform’s inactivity notifications” that they themselves generate. Facebook is inventing notifications to have a reason to notify us that we haven’t made anything notification-worthy recently.

Facebook Workplace Invented NotificationsFacebook Workplace Invented Notifications

Clicking through left me with these notificationsClicking through left me with these notifications

Invented notifications are dark patterns. Inactivity reports and growth hacking type reminders that I didn’t specifically enable are dark patterns. Unless you’re a rare unicorn user, I doubt you like reminders to use a given app. I doubt any user regularly is thrilled that Tumblr, Twitter, or Instagram is reminding me about another cousin— twice removed — exciting day.

Tumblr's awesome notification spamTumblr's awesome notification spam

Apple even has a (loosely enforced) App Store guideline around such spammy notifications. Rumor has it that the reviews team threatened to pull Tumblr multiple times over their egregious push spam. I wish they had followed through with that threat.

Apple App Store Review Guidelines on notification spamApple App Store Review Guidelines on notification spam

At least we can look to wonderful companies like Duolingo who automatically disable notifications when they aren’t effective. Though, to be completely honest, their rhetoric could be less disheartening. (Perhaps the notifications could quietly vanish, disappearing into the early hours of the morning like tertiary party guests. Popping up again to check in once you re-open the app, and only then asking you to clarify your notification tolerance levels.)

Duolingo stops sending push notifications if you ignore themDuolingo stops sending push notifications if you ignore them

Designers and product managers working for these popular applications have the ability to interrupt millions of lives on a regular basis. Vibrate millions of pockets. Interrupt thousands of important conversations. Embarrass hundreds of users projecting their phones or laptops onto conference room screens. Escalate dozens of arguments between parents and teens when the latter becomes distracted by a notification during a particularly long lecture and breaks contact to check the alert— only to find their attempt to find a minor reprieve backfired, leaving weeks before their phone privileges are restored.

It’s a power that comes with a great responsibility. I hope you’ll take it seriously.

April 30, 2017

More Words by Yours Truly

If you’d like to read more posts by yours truly, follow the Flexport Design blog over on Medium. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve written so far. I’d love you to check it out.

Flexport Design BlogFlexport Design Blog

March 23, 2017

Dear Patrons,

We are experiencing significant delays on your Muni line due to: Choose your own reasoning

A) We removed much of the overhead cabling to improve the views around the city for upcoming festivities.

B) Four Metro trains broke down and caught fire simultaneously blocking all traffic in and out of the Muni Metro subway system. No, we don’t have any way to move or bypass these trains. We designed our tracks without a way to bypass stalled electric trains. (Did you know electric trains can stall out? We just did!) In our defense, though, we thought Italian-made electric trains would rarely break down!

C) Someone spilled some water in one of the stations and now the power is out in the entire subway system.

D) AT&T upgraded their cellular services in the Bay Area and no longer support 2G EDGE service which we relied on for GPS tracking. Thus, we have lost track of all Muni vehicles. Yes we were told for years this would happen, but we just kept saying Update Tomorrow” for the past few months.

E) Our tunneling project for the Central T subway is now a crime scene. It was actually a long con for several of Muni officials to steal everything in the Apple Store. They have escaped onto Caltrain. Which has hit a pedestrian and is now holding in all directions for 2-3 hours. 

F) We tried to install Norton Anti-Ransomware and it bricked all of our Windows ME machines. We can’t open fare gates or turn on the trains right now.

G) We had a meeting with the General Manager of Cincinnati’s historic subway system and took some of their advice a little too close to heart. 

H) We forgot to clean the trains and buses for a few days and it seems that a troupe of small animals have taken shelter. They are well armed.

We apologize for the inconvenience. We never planned for any one part of our transit system to ever stop working, so we have no alternates to suggest. Thanks for riding Muni.


The San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority

January 25, 2017

What do you call a dark pattern that isn’t that dark?

Today, when opening a link from the Gmail iOS app that I recently installed (as per my usual behavior, I’ve been hopping around emails apps regularly) I ran into this odd behavior by the Gmail app.

Gmail’s annoying browser dialogGmail’s annoying browser dialog

When opening a link from the app, Google has inserted an interstitial dialog box asking you which Browser you would like Gmail to open.

First, I don’t have Chrome for iOS installed. Thus, showing me this dialog asking me to choose browsers is an advertisement for their browser. This would be fine if phrased as Look, we have Chrome for iOS now!” But it isn’t.

Second, the dark pattern emerges when you see that their default setting for this dialog is to ask me each time.

Google thinks it’s appropriate to remind me each time I click a link in their email program that they have a web browser they would also like me to download. That way it becomes a conscious choice to open Safari and not download Chrome. It’s an annoying and ugly user experience choice. Ugh.

Understand, this small tweak will increase downloads of their Chrome for iOS app, but this dialog is not automatically dismissed after selecting Safari once or twice. (Which I think was their original behavior, which has changed.)

If I had Chrome installed, I also might feel differently. Google could ask upon opening Chrome if I would like all Google apps to use Chrome as the default browser, then save those details to my Google Account. That setting would then propagate to Gmail and other Google owned apps. (Perhaps, even third parties authenticated with my Google account could sync that detail down.)

I know it’s not as bad as Microsoft’s dark pattern usage that got them into a court case with their users, but this is pretty damn annoying.