Thomas Byttebier

Freelance digital designer

Interfaces, UX, web sites

Password interface hell

I’m using a password manager. I dislike password managers. They solve a problem that shouldn’t exist in the first place. They solve a problem software creates. I shouldn’t have to care about passwords.

Nonetheless, we all have an insane amount of passwords to remember and fill out. In the end most people just use the same password for every service, or write them down in a file on their computer. Insecure but totally understandable, they’re just trying to clean up the mess we leave behind.

I was excited when Apple first introduced Touch ID. I thought fingerprint recognition was going to appear everywhere and finally kill login screens and passwords. It hasn’t happened, yet.

I’ve seen a few apps try to solve authentication with interesting flows: emailing a secret login link, texting users… There was OpenID, browser plugins and native browser functionality. Somehow it never really picked up.

Today I read a promising headline: “Yahoo Mail eliminates passwords as part of a major redesign”. I’m no Yahoo Mail user, but when a product with hundreds of millions of users takes a step like this, that’s a big deal. It may ultimately mean a boost for UX on the web.

Further down the article, there’s an explanation of how it works:

You link your Yahoo account to a mobile device, most likely a smartphone. When you go to log in to Yahoo Mail on the web, enter your email address and tab down to the password. Yahoo will recognize that the account has the feature enabled and send a push notification to your device. You can approve or deny the login directly from the notification. (The Verge)

That feels like an important milestone. Most users won’t have to remember their Mail password anymore. One major problem solved.

It makes me dream of the day we’ll confidently go one step further. What if we could eliminate the distracting need to interact with a notification on another device? What if web sites silently talked to the phones in our pockets, surpassing the need to display a login interface.

It’s good to see things move. As designers we should try and eliminate as much UI as possible. Because it always boils down to this: people don’t want to use interfaces, they want to get stuff done. Now.