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Incident Report: Morgan Stanley Login

Category:web pageDate of Incident:2002.09.02
Company:Morgan StanleyHome Page:
OS:Win XPBrowser:IE6


Morgan Stanley is a member of that rare group of venerable brokerage firms that existed and prospered even before the "dot com" boom.


Morgan Stanley offers a trial account, where one may sign up at no charge and gain access to their research reports for two months. I did that sometime ago, then recently came back to their website and wanted to login. In the upper right corner they have a field marked "Account Login", but the typical, casual user would further expect to see right next to that a button marked Go, or perhaps an arrow graphic, or some other action button to perform the login.

how to login

Scenario problems:

The more savvy user might argue that the field is "obviously" a drop-down box, and opening the drop-down would probably solve this mini-mystery. Even if that were true, it is somewhat against the norm of the way most other web sites work, so that's one point against this site. However, opening the drop-down presents 4 other choices, none of which are "obviously" what a casual user would pick to login to this trial account.

better drop-down

Drop-down boxes have conventionally been used in two different ways. Let's say, for example, we want a drop-down box to input the name of a state. The web page might say "pick a state: " and have the drop-down box adjacent to it with choices for AK, AL, AR, etc.

Alternately the "pick a state" phrase might be the first line in the drop-down box itself, in which case this first line is not really a choice, but just an instruction. Depending on the phrase, this could work well or not. The example from Hewlett Packard, shown at right, works quite well. With a phrase like Select your printer the action one is to perform is clear. Once that is done, the submit button is clearly what one selects to go to the next step. In the Morgan Stanley case, as it turns out, this is precisely what they tried to do. But "Account Login" is not nearly as clear in asking the user to take an action and pick one of the other lines in the drop-down box as a choice.

drop-down choices

The choices in Morgan Stanley's login box might be recognized by frequent users of the site, but the casual user, the trial user, would have difficulty. I'm not making this up as an artificial "problem"; I truly went to this site and hunted around through many pages until I found an appropriate login screen. The actual choices, shown at left, just don't have the feel of things-to-login-to. Rather they seem more like six disparate actions that one might perform.

To compound their problem, the absence of an action button next to the field indicates that the act of selecting an item in the drop-down box will also initiate an action to go to that page. Good design principles for designing accessible pages for physically challenged folks dictate that this should not be done; there should be a separate action button.

In a Nutshell:

Usability testing should have uncovered some of the issues discussed here, particularly when right on the home page of the site.

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