The New Amex Biz Travel Site Thinks I’m An Idiot

Jared Spool

October 31st, 2011

American Express is rolling out a new travel service for its business customers. As is customary for today’s web services, there’s are terms and conditions that the new user needs to agree to when they sign up.

Now, these are often implemented with a checkbox that says something like “I have read and agree to the terms and conditions.” Most of us know that hardly anybody reads and everybody just checks off the box. (Once, I watched my dad, a lawyer, check the box without reading. “It’s probably unenforceable,” he told me.)

But on this new Amex site, there’s a different implementation of this control. Sure, there’s a checkbox, but it’s grayed out. The only way to enable it for checking is to scroll to the bottom of the agreement.

The Amex Biz Travel site greys out the checkbox until the user scrolls to the bottom.

Now, as is also standard, the agreement is presented in a tiny little scrolling text box that shows about 200 words at a time. And, as is also standard, the agreement is a whopping 7,243 words (13 pages in a standard document) long.

Therefore, scrolling through this box takes a fair amount of effort. It’s unlikely that scrolling will encourage anyone to read the document. It’s just an extra hoop to jump through to continue the farce of pretending that the user has “read” whatever it is their agreeing to.

Apparently, the lawyers at Amex think that by having me scroll to the bottom, they can claim that I had every opportunity to read and agree to the terms. Therefore, if there’s something down the road I want to sue them about, I gave up that right with my scrolling action. (It’s unlikely any sensible judge will buy this argument, but it’s just as unlikely that any suit against them will get in front of a judge.)

Of course, the best way to do this would be to be honest with your users and treat them with respect. Amex could write the terms in simple language and give users a chance to really understand what they are agreeing to.

The problem with a design solution like the “scroll to agree” implementation is that it won’t be good enough. What happens when some other lawyer at Amex (or whereever) discovers that users don’t read it when they scroll to the bottom and therefore don’t understand what they are agreeing to? They’ll put in some other ridiculous control, where you’ll have to enter a secret code or recite poetry or something.

At some point, we, as designers, have to stand up and say, “This isn’t really doing what you think it’s doing. It’s just making our relationship with our users worse.” When do we do that?

I’d like to start now.

8 Responses to “The New Amex Biz Travel Site Thinks I’m An Idiot”

  1. Clifton Says:

    Kinko’s has been doing this for years. Took me no time at all to realize Ctrl + End solves that problem. Still, it’s annoying, I’m not reading all that, and nobody really cares.

    Hoops and hoops and hoops.

  2. Bri Manning Says:

    I’ve seen this occasionally and it always takes a few seconds to figure out why I can’t just check the box and click through and just makes the whole experience feel silly. I guess that’s what happens when someone who isn’t as knowledgeable forces something because they think it’s somehow a worthy business requirement.

  3. Steven Says:

    Of course your Dad is right and so are you. If Amex thinks you are an idiot, take heart, you are “our” idiot, the people’s idiot and we love you for it.

  4. Elaine Nelson Says:

    I’ve seen this quite a few times, usually on software installation. (Adobe CS products, possibly?) Totally ridiculous.

  5. Brad Hutchison Says:

    Blizzard’s TOS does the same thing. I’m not entirely sure this is always a well thought out design decision, or if it is just a matter of the designer following what they’ve seen before without a second thought of the end user. If it was in the business requirements, someone should have questioned the logic (um, UX designer?), because I’ve met very few lawyers who keep the user, or the client for that matter, in mind.

  6. Adam M Says:

    You’ve already given it more thought than they have, simply by posting this. That’s the problem.

  7. Martin Petrov Says:

    I would like a checkbox “I haven’t read the terms and conditions.”

  8. Don Marti Says:

    Of course it won’t get in front of a judge–you agreed to binding arbitration when you clicked the Agree button.

    (One of the things that the free software scene got right was using a few standard legal documents for many different users. It would be interesting if this could be used more outside of software and Creative Commons licensing.)

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