Sometimes I see people complain about their users; ‘This guy is just an idiot!’. I design software for people and I totally get that feeling from reading bug reports or stack overflow questions from users that just don’t seem to get it.
But we should not call them idiots, and we can use bugreports or other actions by our ‘idiot users’ as a signal to where to improve your work. Because maybe you the creator, are the idiot here.
Many things in life seem perfectly made for the people who made them, and few others.
I believe there are (at least) three things you need to take into account:
Your users do not think like designers or programmers: ‘Normal people just want to get stuff done with minimal fuss. If it works ok, it is fine.' Most people do not want to customize their settings, don’t want the ultimate most efficient approach. Give sane defaults and a happy path for the most common usecases. You, the creator, probably over-estimate the ability of your users. This ability-bias is understandable but dangerous. It is much easier to think about how you do something than to how someone else is doing it.
People act rationally according to how they think the thing works. This contains two ideas: mental models and bounded reality. Everyone has a mental model of how things work. But these models are shaped by culture and history. So if your software looks like something people are familiar with, it better respond in a similar way. Pay attention when your users tell you it looks like something else. With bounded reality we mean that people act rationally with the information they have and how they understand the system. If you think computers are out there to get you, every warning is another signal that the computer is fighting you. Ask questions about what they were trying to achieve and how they think it should work.
And what does it mean for you: you have to iterate and show your work to a diverse set of users, learn from their actions, ask questions. And improve your work. Iterate and improve. But design is also specific, specific to certain users doing some action.
So if you have ‘idiot users’, investigate if you did not design it right for them, or if they were not the target audience.
If you notice that people are using your work for a thing it was not designed for there is an opportunity: ‘I’m sorry that was not the usecase we designed this product for, but we can create a version that really works for that usecase’.
: How design makes the world - Scott Berkun (2020) isbn:978-1-989603-24-6
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