Diversity & a better user registration form

Awareness that gender diversity is real, and not everyone wants to identify as either male or female is slowly moving into peoples minds, it seems. I remember discussions that clients were having, usually about user registration forms, where they had in the past always asked for the gender as “male” or “female”. They had long discussions, and their decisions kept changing. I was not in a position to have any input into either the discussions nor the decisions, but I regularly saw the results. I was sometimes amused, and sometimes shocked how little sensitivity was shown: They actually thought about using a term similar to “other”, but with an almost derogatory connotation (“Sonstige”, in German). Luckily, they later changed that again.

Why do you ask?

When I saw the client struggling with their registration form, I wondered why they were even asking for this information? Why do you ask the gender of a person when they sign-up for a user account?

In all cases that I have encountered, this information was internally used for one single purpose: To determine how to address the person in communication, like email and letters.

I was recently thinking about user registration again when I was working on my newsletter- and membership-tool MembershipNerd. I think it is good practice to keep user regstration forms to a minimum. For MembershipNerd that means I currently collect

  • your email address
  • your consent to receive updates by email (as a check box).

But this leaves something to be desired: How do I address you in my newsletter?

I would really like to make this a little more personal, and I think I came up with a nice solution (that I have yet to implement).

Give the user a better choice

Since I don’t care about your gender, only about how I should address you in my newsletter, I think the user registration form could look something like this:

My emailstefan@ukena.de
Yes, I want to receive updates by email
I prefer to be addressed as• Hi • Hi stefan • Hi stefan@ukena.de • Hi __________ (textbox)

I really like this idea, because this gives the user full control over how they want to be addressed vs. what they want to disclose about themselves.

A note about security

This applies to any free-text input fields in user registration forms: We must make sure that the input value is not used in communication emails before the user has verified their email address. Otherwise, this is an opportunity for spammers or malicious actors to send arbitrary strings from your system’s email address. Another option would be to only ask for this after the user has verified their email.

See also