Killing the CAPTCHA for better UX

| 4 min read

Is there anything that people hate more than a CAPTCHA; other than having to fill it in again when they get it wrong? It’s a question that web designers face every day. Yet, despite the genuine dislike of the CAPTCHA it’s still in use in all too many places online.

Why CAPTCHA’s Suck

There are several reasons that CAPTCHA’s impinge on the user experience:

  • They are hard to use. We’ve all seen a CAPTCHA that we just can’t read. We’ve all hit the refresh button to get one equally useless. That’s not good enough. You’re already taking up a user’s time as it is – they shouldn’t be jumping through hoops to prove to you they’re not a robot. It’s your job to catch robots not theirs.
  • They aren’t disability friendly. If you’re blind then a CAPTCHA process essentially rules you out of using a website. That includes the CAPTCHA’s with audio alternatives; if you think that some CAPTCHA’s are hard to read… you’ll be horrified to find how difficult they are to listen to in many cases.
  • They imply your user has to prove their innocence. Yes, bots are a PITA but you can’t keep treating your users as potential criminals – you have to deal with the PITA yourself.

How To Kill the CAPTCHA

Author/Copyright holder: Morten Just. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC 2.0

The CAPTCHA is designed to screen out bots and there are alternatives to the CAPTCHA process readily available to us:

  • Alternative tests. We’ve thought about this and decided not to promote them. Yes, there are some much more enjoyable tests available out there thanks to the ingenuity of clever programmers but… they’re still tests. Test the bots not the users is our motto in trying to kill off the CAPTCHA.
  • Social identification. This is the idea that you’ll log in to a website with your social media account. There are downsides to this. The first is that you’ll need to include the widest range possible of social media providers to make this accessible (Chinese people don’t have access to Facebook, for example, so don’t rely on one network). The second is that you can create a social profile for a bot too. However, that’s more work and for the moment we like this idea better than CAPTCHAs.
  • Hidden fields. If you put an invisible field in a form – a bot will fill it in, a human won’t. Unfortunately this can be a PITA for the blind too; their speaking software will normally read them the hidden field too.
  • Time checks. Bots don’t hang around when they find a form they fill it in. People read forms before they start. This isn’t without any issues; you may have problems using cookies for auto-completion, for example, but it’s better than a CAPTCHA.


We appreciate that there’s no perfect answer to the CAPTCHA but there are better processes in place than the CAPTCHA. Have a think about the user experience of your product and you’ll soon see why the CAPTCHA must die.

Header Image: Author/Copyright holder: Aram Bartholl. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


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