Would my girlfriend understand this?

My friend and her flatmate spent two hours last night trying to assemble a flat packed chest of drawers. Despite the instructions and tools being available to them, they were unable to assemble it.

Another friend got her cable TV connected and couldn’t tune in the channels.

And recently I tried to programme my video to record a television show and failed miserably.

It seems that bad instructions or no instructions, coupled with a lack of intuitiveness, makes for a very poor user experience. I would take intuitiveness over instructions any day, that’s why I design standard compliant websites with best practice usability. Nobody wants to stop in their tracks and read how something works, it should just work.

I’ve been developing the front end of a large recruitment website the last 10 months or so. I’m constantly faced with scenarios which are unique to this field, and we try to design them so they are as usable as possible. So sometimes I have to ask myself “Would my mother understand this?” or “would my (non-IT) girlfriend understand this?” – or any non technical friend or course! If the answer is no, then it’s back to the drawing board.

It’s all too easy to overestimate users’ ability when you are a computer professional. What comes natural to me can be alien to others. I remember telling my dad how to drag and drop files to move them, until then he’d been opening each file and saving to the other location. (And when he was showing my grandparents a computer they thought the most amazing thing was that the pointer could be moved by the mouse. How do you explain Blogging or Wikipedia or Photoshop or Google to someone like that? – but that’s a different story!)

So all you developers and designers reading, lets commit to making software, web sites and other user interfaces as simple and understandable as we can.

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