Just Tell Me What I Need to Know! The FTC Delves Into Disclosures to Consumers

By Tim Sparapani

“Bad UI leads to bad UX” is one of the most common sayings in Silicon Valley. Translated, this means that bad user interface (UI) – the look, feel and relative usability of an app or website’s design – will inevitably create a bad user experience (UX).  Silicon Valley spends considerable resources trying to build more intuitive, instinctive designs, especially when trying to get consumers’ attention and permission for using their data to offer them products and services.  This challenge is at the heart of an upcoming Federal Trade Commission conference this week focusing on the effectiveness of online disclosures to consumers.

Companies have long had to balance completeness and usefulness in disclosures — take our constantly evolving nutrition labels, for example.   In the digital age, while tech companies have made important strides in communicating with consumers,  striking the right balance is still a challenge just as it is with describing the most important details about your favorite cereal.

Despite decades of work in trying to figure out best disclosure practices by all kinds of companies, it’s amazing how much we have to learn about design for disclosing critical information to consumers. The challenge is most stark online:  tech companies must figure out how to get their  consumers’ attention, tell them what they need to know, and obtain their permission when needed, while not creating the dreaded “notice fatigue” where consumers ignore disclosures or, worse, abandon the website or app out of annoyance.

That’s why the upcoming FTC workshop to explore consumer disclosures is both so interesting and so important. The FTC, state attorneys general, and consumers themselves, rightfully expect that companies should communicate clearly what consumers should or must know about a company’s products or services.  Today, the FTC will gather experts from various disciplines to explore consumer messaging cognition and challenges for disclosures, permissions and warnings all with the goal of advancing UI.

How to communicate something you really need someone to know is a vexing problem in life.  Perhaps, if you are married, you are really good at sharing important news and wisdom with your spouse.  You probably do not try to use the same words to share the same bit of wisdom with your children or someone who is from an older generation.  Words and phrases, much less idioms or technical language, often mean different things to people with different experiences.  Those consumers for whom English is not their first language may understand words in translation differently than those who are native speakers.

Read the full article here.