Unnecessary complexity


In our team we recently had a discussion about how a newsletter registration process could look like on a website.

Working in the german automotive industry we did a quick check how the big players of the local industry handle the issue.

The following forms will be in german. Sorry for that. We won’t need to translate the content. It’s enough to give us a rough overview of the amount of text and input fields. In short. Complexity.

Starting with Mercedes-Benz.

We get asked for a salutation, an optional honorific, given name, surname and of course the e-mail address.

Touching the button registers and directs us to a new page where we can select topics we are interested in, such as sports, design, lifestyle and more.

The text on the bottom informs us the data is only stored for use in the newsletter.

Mercedes-Benz uses five inputs of which four are required.

How does BMW do it?

Similar to Mercedes-Benz. Although BMW makes do with one input field less. They do not ask us for our given name.

Sadly the confirmation button is not fully visible on Safari Mobile and we get a wall of text explaining things to us.

As a result four inputs of which three are required.

Next Audi

Salutation, optional honorific (Dr., Prof., Prof. Dr.), given name, surname and e-mail.

Even solving a Captcha is required. Of course we don’t want all these bots receiving newsletters.

Audi uses six inputs. Five of them required

Turning to Volkswagen.

We are offered the optional honorific as a group of radio buttons instead of a dropdown. An improvement for selections where there aren’t lots of choices.

The checkbox states whether we want to register for the newsletter. We still have to press a button further down though.

Why the button alone would not be enough seems odd.

We have six inputs. Five are required.

On with Porsche

Salutation, optional honorific, given name, surname and e-mail.

Although we are asked for our country. The choices in the german version are Germany and Austria. Radio buttons would have improved that.

Seven inputs. Six required.

How about Opel?

Wait? Seems they are not asking for the honorific. Thus no optional fields. Thumbs up.

I guess there are some doctors and professors driving an Opel but the experience of Opel might differ. As a result we have to enter the e-mail twice. After all if Opel expects users to not have a PhD they might misspell their e-mail. Joking aside. I quite like them leaving the honorific. Although they relinquish their lead a few input fields later by asking for the e-mail twice.

Summarised: Five inputs. All of them required.

Let’s recap. All six (Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, Porsche and Opel) ask for personal data one might deem unnecessary for the act of sending a newsletter. They differ in nuances. BMW makes do without a given name, Audi has a captcha, Porsche asks for the country and Opel does not offer the honorific.

7 inputs for Porsche. 6 for Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volkswagen. 5 for Opel and 4 for BMW.

We get that all the info is used somewhere. If only in the first line of the newsletter. All we ask is would it be possible without it?

As we finished with the germans how does the current arch enemy of the industry, Tesla, do it?

One simple field. No legal texts. No checkboxes. Only a field for the mail and one button to confirm your choice.

Leaving enough space for a picture of a car. The product you are interested in and the reason for you registration in the first place.

Clean design. It’s also a signup that fits into a single screen on a smartphone. No scrolling required.

So how come for something that only requires a valid e-mail address we are asked for much more? Mostly because there is some company document around which defines how one should address a (potential) customer.

Does the customer want to be addressed that way? Maybe. Maybe all he is interested in is the information of the newsletter. Not a greeting containing his given name and surname with proper honorific and a correct salutation. If we really care then we would give an optional text input field where the customer can enter how he wants to be addressed. Or simply have all the non e-mail fields optional. Then we could track how many registrations fill out this optional field and thus whether we need it at all.

Aside from not bothering the user any more than necessary there are additional benefits.

We avoid complexity in our software. No need to have tests around which verify logic such as Honorific is not required for a newsletter registration or Both surname and e-mail are required for a newsletter registration. Remember the agile principle of simplicity and the art of maximizing the amount of work not done?

Moving to other markets also becomes easier. If we are launching the service in Korea we won’t have to translate all the fields and then, when creating the e-mail, make sure the family name comes first when in Germany the family name comes last. Less of the things that can go wrong.

As an addition we avoid edge cases dealing with users who are addressed by a single name (mononym).

Going through the other players in the industry it paints pretty much the same picture. At least in their german registration forms. Although some offer a third option for the salutation.

Honorary mention to the french Citroen which only has one input field for the e-mail and a button. There might be others. We did not go through all of them. Sorry.

Although to the defence of the german players the are some newsletter registrations, for example for the Mercedes-Benz EQ brand, where choosing the salutation, first- and last name are optional.

Seems the industry is moving in the right direction. Let’s see what the future holds.

Article has been cross-posted on Medium.