Gerry Gaffney

Information & Design

Why Don’t People Just ... ?


Our life would be so much easier if people would just behave in a sensible fashion. We don’t really ask very much of them. Just click on the things that are clickable. Swipe on the things that are swipeable. Read the instructions, follow the steps, look at the prompts. Swallow the meds.

Instead we have to deal with these lazy, crazy, unfocused, inattentive and often downright hostile users. That’s why one of the top five search terms in Google is “Google”.

Sometimes I’m guilty of this behaviour myself. My phone has a dent in it because it’s not a good hammer. But when the problem you have is a nail, every tool looks like a hammer.

Stop, hammer time! Er, I mean, hammer phone!

I try to keep some simple facts in mind:

  1. Instructions dont instruct. Anything that gets in the way of doing something is ignored. A waste of ink or electrons. I wonder whether the Dalai Lama reads instructions? I imagine he might, but nobody else does.
  2. Dialog boxes should be renamed to monologue boxes. There is no two-way communication. “What did that say?” I ask people who’ve just dismissed a message. “Dunno” is the invariable answer, but I know they mean “Don’t care.” Every operating system should have a setting that says “Dismiss all dialog boxes and messages automatically”. And it should be the default setting, because nobody would ever change it.
     
  3. Everything is too slow. If it doesn’t happen right now, it’s never happening, so people move on to the next thing (click, swipe, Ctrl+W, triple-click…)
  4. Everything is clickable or touchable. If it exists, then it must be useful, so it will be touched, and something better happen.
     
  5. Nothing is clickable or touchable. If it doesn’t say “touch me”, it won’t get touched.
  6. There is no short-term memory. Back in the good old days (around 1995) people could remember a few things for a few seconds. Now they can’t, and we’d better not expect them to.

So, we need to deal with distracted, partially engaged impatient users.

But isn’t that what makes it so much fun?

Illustration credits: Gina Ellis

Gerry Gaffney

Gerry runs UX consultancy Information & Design in Melbourne, and produces the User Experience podcast. He works with public and private sector clients on a wide range of projects. Gerry is co-author, with Caroline Jarrett, of Forms That Work: Designing Web Forms for Usability. He’s also an active member of the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA), former Managing Editor of its print magazine User Experience, and incoming Director of Publications.

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