Are there any need for titles (Miss. Mrs, Mr)?

When designing, I’m always thinking about the value of the content for the user –

What makes this useful for the reader? What is the minimum effort that they need to put in to get the information they need and can we automate that?

It’s always about the level of value exchange – if someone is looking for good brunch spots in their local area, it’s likely we’d need to know where they are (essential) and maybe what they like (non essential but maybe more targeted and therefore efficient). If they’d like to send that summary to their phone, we could then ask for their number or email – but someone is much more likely to trust the feature if information is only asked for when it’s needed, and the promise of how it’ll be used is fulfilled.

With increasing developments in personalisation on ecommerce sites, especially in areas such as emails, there is a tendency to rely on the courtesy titles to identify whether the user is a male or female. At this point, many businesses then assume that they’re more likely to be interested in their identified gender’s content, and target appropriately.

However, I have a problem with this targeting practice, as it’s not being clear about how that data is used. For me, it’s another barrier to building trust, as actually, the courtesy title is not used in any customer-facing way. The expectation is that it will be used along with the name to refer to the user as ‘Mr Minnitt’. Most of the time, a user will forget that they entered this at all. But after entering this data emails and other areas of the site may be targeted towards the assumed gender, which may be seen as ‘creepy’ (where the website has worked out something about you without you knowing how) and not necessarily what the user is looking for.

Because it’s also something thats not really used in day-to-day life, it’s often one of the fields with the most errors on – people’s eyes jump to the ‘First Name’ field and miss the Title (which I’ve seen multiple times in user testing, but unfortunately can’t find any analysis or articles to prove this point).

A form can be as long as it likes as long as it’s clear why the user needs to enter them. Why is my email required, and what else will it be used for? Why is my address needed to make my experience on this site better? This article goes into depth about the sign up form and it’s barriers to completion:

I much prefer an overtly transparent way of communicating online, where a system may ask for a piece of data for a specific and useful reason. Forms which ask the question – ‘Are you interested in male or female content’ allow a user to make the decision themselves and have a clear understanding of how the information is used.  It’s only a small thing, but it’s a definite bug bear of mine, and sites that are clear about the use of this always seem to me to be more honest and are sites I prefer to use.

Segmentation using titles

Segmentation using titles

Segmentation by being honest

An honest example from Everlane

Someone with similar thoughts on the subject – The Silicon Glen: Courtesy Titles – their proper use and website design guidelines.

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