Patreon UI Problems

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Sep 4, 2019

Filed under: Rants 22 comments

I posted this a week ago, but I did so after a video. A lot of people assumed the text was just a transcript of the videoProbably because I told them that’s what it was. and thus didn’t see this additional rant. So here it is again:

On Patreon, I announced that you can get your name in the credits as one of the reward tiers. The problem is that the Patreon reward system is needlessly obtuse thanks to the vanity of some obnoxious graphic designer. People keep getting confused because they want the $2 reward, but they want to give more than $2. They click on the “Name in the credits” reward tier, and it will LOWER their existing contribution to $2. Ridiculous!

This isn’t a hypothetical. This actually happened. To multiple people. Some of them emailed me for help, but others just shrugged and moved on. This interface design actually cost me a little bitLike, $20 to $30. Not the end of the world, but just enough to be annoying. of support.

Someone is so enamored of their sexy layout that they’re willing to sacrifice usability. It looks like this:

It’s not obvious, but that dollar amount in the top-left is an edit field. You can just change the number when you sign up. Before you hit “Confirm”, just click on the $2 and change it to whatever.

The problem is that there’s nothing to indicate the $2 is an edit field. For proper usability, it ought to look like this:

I realize that’s not as sexy, but sexiness shouldn’t be the top priority for a page designed to handle financial transactions.

Aside to PayPal:

Everything I just said goes double for you. Your once-intuitive interface is now attractive and horrendously inconvenient. These are not the priorities of a proper financial institution. I know it’s not Web 2.0 sexy to have your interface look like an accounting ledger, but that’s how your website should look because that’s what it is.

Sorry. Back to Patreon. My UI suggestions for Patreon:

  • If someone clicks on a reward tier and they’re already giving MORE than required for the tier, then don’t lower their payment to match the tier. They’re not trying to change their donation. They already have a place to do that. They’re trying to claim this particular reward. Just auto-fill the box with their exiting donation.
  • The donation amount should look like an edit field.

I actually dislike the entire “tier” system of rewards, because I’d like people to be able to pick and choose.

Let’s say I have these rewards:

  • For $2 and above, I’ll work your name into a song in my upcoming video.
  • For $5 and above, I’ll send you hand-written perfumed love letters twice a month.
  • For $150 and above, I’ll hand-carve you a Warhammer 40k figurine out of the brand soap of your choiceIf a smartass asks for me to do it with liquid soap, I’ll just send them a handful of soap. They can’t prove I didn’t carve it..

So then someone wants a soap carving but they understandably don’t want me singing their name in public or sending creepy love letters because that might cause some problems in their personal life. Maybe they want the love letter but not the song. I’d actually need to set up a complex matrix of options for all the permutations of rewards: Song only, letter only, song and letter, figurine only, figurine with song, figurine with letter, and all 3 combined. This complexity will quickly escalate out of control as the number of rewards goes up, and users will need to read through all of them to find the specific option they’re interested in.

Obviously this would be confusing and terrible, so typically creators structure things like Tier 2 includes all the rewards from tier 1, tier 3 includes all the rewards from tier 2, and so on. I suspect this winds up being a lot of extra work for creators. Someone wants the $20 reward, but that automatically qualifies them for the $3 postcard. So then the creator winds up sending them a postcard they don’t particularly want or care about.

I think a better system would be for the interface to simply ask for a donation amount, and below that would be a list of all the stuff available at that level. They can then enable or disable items individually.

To be clear: I only offer one reward so the above suggestion doesn’t apply directly to me. I’m just saying how I think it ought to work and how I’d like it to work when I’m supporting other people.

I’ll admit my suggested system can’t do branching options like, “For $5 you can have a signed picture of me OR a picture of my cat.” I’ll admit this is complicated stuff and it’s very hard to design a system that can meet the needs of every creator. But regardless of what system is used or how it works, the #1 interface priority should be to make things as simple and as clear for the supporters as possible. Even if it’s complicated for the creator on the backend, it should still be clear for the people putting their money in.

Anyway, sorry for the confusion and hassle. I guess I should link to my Patreon at this point. Thanks for reading and thanks for the support.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Probably because I told them that’s what it was.

[2] Like, $20 to $30. Not the end of the world, but just enough to be annoying.

[3] If a smartass asks for me to do it with liquid soap, I’ll just send them a handful of soap. They can’t prove I didn’t carve it.



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22 thoughts on “Patreon UI Problems

  1. BlueHorus says:

    For $150 and above, I’ll hand-carve you a Warhammer 40k figurine out of the brand soap of your choice

    Still better and cheaper than Finecast!
    (Badum-tish!)

  2. Agammamon says:

    Someone is so enamored of their sexy layout that they’re willing to sacrifice usability.

    The Warframe UI designers work for Patreon?

  3. Xeorm says:

    Maybe this is more an issue of people’s expectations being wildly different between groups? When I went to Patreon the first time their system was clear as day. It’s got a box that looks like it’s editable, next to a statement saying “Choose what you pay”. But that’s me. I see the box and I think it’s editable. I can see some others maybe getting confused by that.

    Then there’s the tier system. It doesn’t surprise me that it’s setup more like a tiered reward system rather than a shopping cart of rewards. That system makes complete sense to me, and if a tier is updated the system automatically updates people’s tiers.

    At the end of the day too…unless the system has automated items, the system doesn’t give out rewards automatically. That’s on the creator. So it leaves it up to the creator as well. If someone wants one reward, but not another the simple solution is to message the creator and ask not to be included. To me the system works really well for connecting people with money and creators that can’t sell their stuff on a more normal basis. Like constructing extra content here, or for artists and whatnot.

    1. Syal says:

      Yeah, even knowing there’s a box there, that doesn’t look like a box. At best it looks like an underline, which itself looks like it could be related to the minimum price requirement; like if you were below that, the line would change to text telling you you were below that.

      A box’s edges should never blend in with both the inside and the outside of the box. At least one of the three has to be a different color.

    2. Retsam says:

      Yeah, I think that’s at play here. The underline to indicate that something is editable, combined with context, is a little more subtle, but I don’t think it’s really a huge difference, but it’s just a newer style, while people who have been on the internet longer are more used to the “input that looks like a box”, style.

      IMO, the UX issue is the big problem, it’s really weird that I have to go through a checkout system at all, in order to opt-in to a tier that I’m already contributing enough to qualify for. The UI of a box vs. an underline is IMO, a much more minor issue and largely just compounds the underlying UX confusion.

  4. Tohron says:

    I’ll admit my suggested system can’t do branching options like, “For $5 you can have a signed picture of me OR a picture of my cat.”

    Actually, your proposal can readily adapt event to this: instead of having a checkbox for that level, you have a multiple-choice selection option, or a dropdown (with “nothing” being the default).

  5. Johnny Cash says:

    I’ll admit my suggested system can’t do branching options like, “For $5 you can have a signed picture of me OR a picture of my cat.”

    I think it would only be slightly more complex for the Patreon-devs, the UI for the creator on Patreon, and the UI for the patron/donator, to have the donator pick and choose how their donation is used up in rewards (or choose to forego rewards):
    – anything in Reward Group A costs $5 (e.g. postcard, signed mouse-pad, name in credits)
    – anything in Reward Group B costs $20 (e.g. signed T-shirt, early copy of music album)
    – anything in Reward Group C costs $100 (e.g. you get a named NPC in the game, hand-carved miniature)
    So, somebody who donated $40 could choose two shirts, or a shirt and name in credits and forego other rewards, or just get the postcard and forego the other rewards.

    1. Thomas says:

      Turn it into more of a shopping cart and call them ‘add-ons’. You’ve got a base donation that you set, and you can tick an add-on which will add $5 a month with a specific reward.

      Maybe that’s getting too close to a service and breaks the psychology of donating.

  6. Paul Spooner says:

    My Patreon rewards (before I deleted most of them) were all opt-in rewards. The little change from “I will…” to “At your request I will…” made all the difference in how I was thinking about it, and the breadth of the options I was willing to offer.
    Of course, it didn’t seem to have worked, so maybe there’s something to be said for limiting options and guaranteeing rewards.

  7. Josh Harrison says:

    I’m a developer/writer/editor for a tabletop RPG (Earthdawn), and we recently ran into the headaches of a “tier” system with our most recent Kickstarter. It was for a new book in the game line, which makes a total of seven main-line books and half-a-dozen minor supplement/adventures.

    Because we had people who missed out on earlier campaigns, or hadn’t been able to get the books since their initial release, or whatever other reason, we wanted to give people the chance to pick up earlier stuff… but the number of potential combinations would have ended up… complex, and probably daunting.

    In the end, we broke our stuff into a couple of different categories (“Rulebooks”, “Setting Books”, “Adventures”), and put together blocks of product.

    In the end, because some people wanted individual items rather than a full bundle (they already had books X & Y, just wanted book Z), we had to set up the survey to allow individual add-ons… and then process stuff to make sure the right pledge amount was given, follow-up bill for shortages, etc…

    Kind of tedious and not fun.

    1. Dev Null says:

      Hey! I loved Earthdawn back in the 90’s! Don’t get much chance to tabletop anymore, but I’ll go check out what you’re up to!

    2. krellen says:

      I’m going to assume you all are more competent than the team that got the Shadowrun license. It’d be hard not to be.

    3. Adeon says:

      Out of curiosity, why didn’t you use a pledge manager site? I know backerkit has the option for a shopping cart system to cover this sort of scenario (and allow backers to spend extra money if they under-pledged) and I assume that most other pledge manager sites have similar systems.

  8. Moridin says:

    Obviously this would be confusing and terrible, so typically creators structure things like Tier 2 includes all the rewards from tier 1, tier 3 includes all the rewards from tier 2, and so on. I suspect this winds up being a lot of extra work for creators. Someone wants the $20 reward, but that automatically qualifies them for the $3 postcard. So then the creator winds up sending them a postcard they don’t particularly want or care about.

    Admittedly I typically don’t pay a lot of attention to patreon rewards(in part because I don’t really want to give Patreon money for reasons that are probably best not discussed here) so my experience might not be representative, but from what I’ve seen the rewards are typically structured in such a way that only the top-tier(s) create (significant amount of) extra work for the creators. So someone pledging $3 isn’t getting a postcard, he’s getting exclusive access to (some) patron-only material and maybe access to patron discord.

    1. Matthew Downie says:

      Those ‘hand-written perfumed love letters twice a month’ Shamus is apparently offering for $5 seem like a terrible deal for him…

      1. Syal says:

        Nah, just carve a heart into a piece of paper. If you don’t open the ream you can make them 500 at a time. And the lady at the post office wears so much perfume it’s the default.

  9. evileeyore says:

    I hate Patreon. The two times I’ve tried to use them in the past, I had to fight to get them to accept my card,and then I had to fight every month for them to keep using that card, and then I had to fight to get them to stop auto unpledging me, and then once I got tired of fighting them repeatedly every single month and wanted to opt out, suddenly I had to fight to remove my pledges and get them to stop taking money automatically (suddenly my card was not only acceptable, but it stopped being auto removed).

    I finally solved it by demanding my account be purged. Which took them 3 months to finally resolve.

    So, yeah. Not only does Patreon have terrible politics, they’re my Windows Update/UPlay/Games For Windows Live… (I can’t remember which one bedeviled Shamus more, and he hasn’t ranted at the clouds about one them in a long time so…)

    1. Guest says:

      Yuck. “Awful politics”.

      Says a lot of bad things about you bub.

      Just glad neither of us are allowed to talk about it here.

  10. Simplex says:

    Hi Shamus,

    I know almost nothing about effective Patreon usage, but did you consider adding higher tiers without rewards (i.e. every tier over 2$ contains the same reward as the first tier, the credits)? Just add more tiers with some funny inventive descriptions, similar to this: https://www.patreon.com/vr365 (that’s a creator that I follow on youtube – the names of tiers are references to his content, i.e. he often says “ladies and gentlebots”, or he says he’s hungry and needs to eat a banana – hence the names of tiers). With how lore-rich your site is, I’m sure you could come up with great tier descriptions.
    It may seem like superficial fluff, but it may actually motivate people to pledge more to be in the “cool” tier.

    I think people will be more wiling to pay you if they are presented with a host of choices to… choose from instead of having to go to the trouble of figuring by themselves how much they want to pay you. Basic human laziness at work ;)
    Anyways, just a thought. My impression is that by having only one, $2, tier you are subconsciously guiding people towards pledging just two bucks and nothing more (and that dumb pateron UI does not help).

    1. Ben Matthews says:

      You need to be careful with this though, as it’s a quirk of the human mind that when presented with too much choice, we’ll often pick nothing at all.

  11. ccesarano says:

    “For $5 you can have a signed picture of me OR a picture of my cat.”

    Is the picture of the cat signed by the cat? Because that’s pretty nifty.

    Every few months I go in to modify my pledges on Patreon and it feels like every time they’ve made it more troublesome to find where you [i]edit an existing pledge[/i]. For a system that’s semi-imitating Kickstarter, Kickstarter at least makes it clear what my pledge is and how I can change or modify it. I feel like Patreon is far more obtuse and there would be instances where I unpledged just so I could pledge again at a new amount.

    It’s a disaster of a website, really.

  12. Ben Matthews says:

    “the #1 interface priority should be to make things as simple and as clear for the supporters as possible.”

    There’s a saying among book cover designers (the good ones, at least): Be clear before you’re clever.

    It applies to more than just books.

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