I was signing up to a website the other day, and it wanted to know my title. Here are the options it offered me:
Look, I get it. If I’m ever daft enough to undertake a PhD and masochistic enough to complete it – I am going to demand that everyone addresses me as Doctor
Who Doom Octopus.
But why this ordering? Why distinguish between male and female doctors? Let’s see if the source code holds any answers.
As many of you may have guessed, the website is German. Herr Doctor and Frau Doctor are distinct titles. In some societies, it is extremely rude to refuse to use someone’s correct title.
But, again, why are the titles presented in this way?
Next time you fill in an official form which asks for sex information, notice that it is almost always in the format Male / Female. Why is “male” first? It isn’t alphabetical – the normal way to order things. And it’s not in demographic proportion – there are more women than men.
If the above list were in alphabetic order, in English it would have “Dr (Fem)” first. In German it would be “Divers” first. So who made the choice to put it in this specific order? And why isn’t the first title, for example, Frau Professor?
What choices have been made, and why have they been made?
Here’s another example, the British shopping site Very.co.uk
I suspect that they know their user base is predominantly female. But do their demographics also skew towards married? Is that why they’ve put Mrs first?
I recommend reading Kate Roberts’ “Women On Top: Inappropriate Dropdowns” – which takes a proper look at the usability of dropdown ordering.
BA have a weird grouping.
After the “normal” titles is a hodge-podge of Captains, Rabbis, and Reverends. What’s the order? Why are some grouped alphabetically and others not? How easy is it to quickly find the correct title on this list?
Emirates are quite happy to use young women as part of their advertising images.
But “Miss” comes at the bottom of their title list.
Who are we leaving out?
The approach by British store Fortnum and Mason is extremely inclusive.
But they’re still sticking Mr on top…! Lord comes before Lady etc.
And they’re missing my title – “Supreme Commander”.
Are titles important?
I’m torn. I remember as a teenager receiving my first letter addressed to Mr Eden. I was so proud.
But today, everything seems to be so casual. Call centres refer to me by my first name. My bank sends emails addressing me as “Dear Terence”.
Of course, I’m cisgendered and only rarely misgendered when speaking to people. It doesn’t distress me when people get my title wrong.
It comes down to why you collect title. Do you really need to know the gender of your user or their marital status? Is knowing educational attainment or religion necessary to good functionality?
Rather than offering a drop-down of limited options – which is guaranteed to exclude someone – perhaps it makes more sense to just ask the user how they would like to be addressed.
Give your users a free-form text box – and make it optional.