I’ve somehow been sucked back into web design and development of late, most of which isn’t making me happy (IE6, just die already!), but a few neat bits of tech have delighted my inner geek, and it’s also given me cause to read a few interesting articles. This, at Beta Blog, is worth a skim: Kill Your Signup Form with Rails.

Ignore the Rails part if you’re not that way inclined, the lesson here is about gradual engagement. This is something we do in education or informal engagement – wearing one of my other hats as a science communicator it’s entirely familiar – but making the connection to web development surprised me more than it should.

The idea is simple: don’t make people commit, or sign up to your site, until you absolutely have to. Amazon is a familiar example of this sort of design pattern, in that you can browse away merrily, the site identifies you via a cookie and personalises to some extent, but you don’t actually sign in until you request an action that changes state – adding an item to your wishlist, or checking out your basket, for example.

By that time you’ve already expressed an intent to provide information to Amazon, so the cost/benefit of typing your password is clear.

It’s a sound principle.