Friday, November 14, 2014

Design for the Clueless

I like the attitude that Baratunde Thurston brings to his column in the November Fast Company.  It is a full out rant about clueless users  I know this is going to be anathema to many in the UX field, so please don’t bite off my head until you read to the end  Or bite Baratunde’s head off instead. 

Our instincts as HF designers is to prevent the negative user experiences that are caused by errors.  Our first instinct is error prevention and error recovery and error mitigation.  We want to keep our users from having negative emotional reactions, productivity lapses, system failures, or any other negative performance resulting from errors on the system. Black hat designers might intentionally do this, but that was another post

It might be that they are simply novices with the system.  They could be deliberately indifferent or inattentive, multitasking with three other devices at the same time. Or they could simply be clueless.  Do we design our systems so that they can’t make mistakes in any of these cases? How far should we go to protect users from their own failures? 

The example that Baratunde focuses on is Facebook’s proposal to tag joke posts with the label “Satire.”  Think of articles from The  Onion.  If you are not paying close attention, will you realize that the headline did not really happen?  Aliens did not really land on the moon?  But if users can’t figure this out for themselves, perhaps the embarrassment that may result will be good for long term performance, even as it is devastating to them in the short term.  Won’t they ever learn?  Isn’t this like an overprotective parent that prevents their children from growing up responsibly and aware? 

And if they don’t learn from their mistakes, isn’t a little social Darwinism a good thing?  Perhaps the Congressman who was incensed when he found out that Planned Parenthood was opening an $8 Billion Abortionplex and posted his outrage on his Facebook page for all his constituents to see deserved to lose his next election. 

And of course there is another benefit of leaving the clueless user to his or her own devices.  The laughs that we get.  One person’s pain can now become amusement to millions of other people on Facebook and Twitter.  Shouldn’t we include this outcome in our user experience modeling?  

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