You’re Doing it Wrong Stupid

I just read this insightful post over on Ed Finkler’s blog Funkatron about the issue of whether or not people are too dumb or technology is too confusing.

What I’ve learned from interacting with most computer users, though, is that they do not give a rat’s ass about how computers work. They want to accomplish certain tasks, and will do this in the way that is most sensible and direct for them. And the way they end up accomplishing these tasks within the multitasking window motif is typically not the way I would do it.

The question being asked is ‘Who’s fault is this?’

Some would argue that it’s users fault, people don’t care enough or aren’t interested in learning more about how technology works. Others say that developers are to blame for making technology far too complicated.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently myself, we just finished a re-design of our website at work and I’ll soon be launching a mobile application as well. Both of these projects have very specific UI requirements and both projects have generated numerous hours of discussion and deliberation on how to most appropriately display our content.

So when we flip the switch and share our creations with the masses, who’s to blame when people are confused or upset?

My friend Tim and I have been busting each others chops over Apple vs Microsoft in regard to their differentiating paradigms of window management. As he told me once, “I don’t know how many times I’ve sat down at a public use Mac in a lab somewhere with all windows closed but 15 apps running.”

And he’s right, this is very confusing. And it’s coming from Apple, a company lauded for their slick user experiences. Who’s to blame?

Anecdotal Side Story

I know a professional who uses a computer for a large portion of her job. She sits in front of her computer the entire day. She’s not a power user, but the tasks she has on her plate all revolve around the daily use of various programs. Info management systems, email, browsing the web, web content creation, to name a few.

What’s interesting is how he interfaces with the computer. She uses her mouse rotated 180 degrees so that the buttons are at the bottom. Somehow, at some point in the past she sat down and started using a computer this way. She uses her fingers to grip the bottom edge of the mouse and clicks the ‘right’ button for  a left-click.

Is she doing it wrong? Why does she do this? Who, if anyone, taught her? Who’s ‘fault’ is it that she does this?

There’s no harm in how she’s doing it. There’s no advantage to teach her how to do it differently. There’s nothing gained professionally if she learns a new way.

As I’ve grown older and entered the world of professionals I have realized that all those dry cut things we were taught growing up are much more fuzzy.

Politics, bureaucracy, limitation of resources, available time  – all contribute to the mired relationship of technology and people. Everyone is to blame/no one is to blame.

It’s a series of large and small events that cascade to to the present situation. How we deal with it moving forward is the interesting part.