Usability catastrophe – Payroll Calculator

The tax folks offer an online way for businesses to figure what they owe the government –the Payroll Calculator on the Canada Revenue Agency website. Just try to use it.

  1. Arriving by search works pretty well. The alternative is to wade through the CRA home page plus a couple more pages. Google gets you right the fourth-level page where the Payroll Calculator starts.
  2. After clicking “I Accept”, the opening screen prompts you for date, pay periods per year, and province. It has pre-filled the field “Select the province…” for you. CRA knows where users arrive from, so they pre-filled Newfoundland and Labrador. Okay.
  3. A field at the very top suggests you enter an employee’s name optionally. If you happen to read the warning, you may wonder whether it is wise. It is pretty arcane: “The completion of the employee’s name results in a new aggregation of personal information about this employee at this location”. Good thing that field is optional.
  4. About now you might be wondering what that screen said when you clicked “I Accept”.
  5. The main group of control buttons – print – back – new – summary – are at the bottom of the screen, below the fold on many display settings.
  6. “Calculate” sounds like what you came to do. Once you press it, the left menu offers only one menu item: “Save calculation”. Except it does not save calculation. It leads to a brief page about how to save a web page. On closer observation, the left menu item is actually under a “Help” header.
  7. There is no left-menu item to get back to the calculations.
  8. You begin to realize that the browser’s “Back” button is a very important navigational tool. Apparently to Firefox as well – every time you hit your browser’s “Back” button, Firefox double-checks to make sure you really want to “Resend”.
  9. The “Help” function is in the left menu, below a quaint graphic that doesn’t do anything. Neither does “Help” it turns out – it is a header for a one-item menu with just “Save Calculation” under it. If a user even notices “Help”, they have to figure out why to look there rather than looking at Help in the menu at top.
  10. If you do click the Help button at the top, they take you far from the Payroll Calculator.
  11. Menu items under the left-menu “Help” disappear and re-appear – they are contextual. But in the middle of a payroll calculation, there is no other menu item than “Save calculation” – remember that’s the menu item that doesn’t save your calculation.
  12. In calculation mode, no other menu item is active on the left menu. Not one.
  13. In the primary scanning area of the calculation screen, the only action you can take is use the CLF2 buttons – or scroll below the fold to see the main control buttons. Perhaps you’ll use the “Back” button out of the Payroll Calculator – and start all over.
  14. By now you realize that “scroll” is the second-most important navigational option on the Payroll Calculator. You use it every time you want to click the control buttons.
  15. There are no links to a tax guide to get examples or details.
  16. The overall model may not dawn on you right away. There are six unique screens. Not counting the three you had to wade through to get to the Payroll Calculator. Even at a minimum there are eleven selections and scrolls, plus numbers to type, such as salary. Not counting error-screens if you don’t do something right. For this kind of process you may be used to feedback, like what overall process you are being led throughhow far you are into the process, and how to go back a step or two.
  17. If you get frustrated with re-filling fields as you re-start the Payroll Calculator, you might try registering for a MyBusinessAccount. You quickly discover this requires something called an “ePass”. If you continue, you find that ePass registration requires information from your tax return. They expect you to have your tax return handy. Worse yet – CRA actually needs a line from your personal tax return. For a MyBusinessAccount?
  18. So you might at this point want to talk to somebody. But the “Contact Us” menu item you just saw on the left menu is no longer there. The left menu on the calculation screen doesn’t include it. Don’t bother looking for an email – anywhere – CRA doesn’t want your emails.

No wonder CRA gets 23 million people phone calls a year. The people answering the CRA’s phones never treat clients like that. CRA’s call centre people are attentive, efficient, and talk about your options rather than hiding them so you can’t see them. Imagine if the CRA website were designed like that! Your time is valuable – don’t visit CRA’s the web pages – phone them.

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