A few weeks ago I read a great post by Inayaili de León called Clients Aren’t Stupid. In this post Yaili challenges the perception of the web industry in the way that we think about clients. When I first read this post I agreed with what she was saying but it didn’t really register any further. In the last week or two however the topic of “stupid users” or “stupid clients” has resurfaced in a couple of different areas and it got me thinking further about the way we as and industry think.
The first post to get me thinking was the story of Facebook users getting confused when Read Write Web published a story on the new Facebook redesign. If you are not aware of what happened, I shall quickly sumarise.
Facebook launched a redesign of their website and as usual everybody said they hated it. Read Write Web published a story about the new redesign and consequently got a higher ranking in Google for the term “Facebook login”. It turns out that many users do not go to facebook.com and try and find the login page but type the phrase into Google. Cue angry Facebook users leaving comments on the Read Write Web article about how they hate the new design and why can’t they login to the horrible new site.
This was pretty surprising to me, not only did people use Google to go to page that they visit regularly but they also did not realise that they were on a completly different site and were perfectly willing to give over thier usernames and passwords. Not surprising we get the chuckles and chants of “stupid users”. Alright, pretty surprising but it can’t be that common, I tell myself. Then I read an article on UX magazine about the general public not knowing what a browser is and embedded in the post was a video created by Google asking people in the street what is a browser and what is the difference between a browser and Google.
Guess what… most people didn’t know what a browser was, what it was used for or how it differed from Google. In fact most people said a browser was Google. Again this really surprised me. As a web designer all we ever bang on about are browsers and how users don’t want to use crappy IE6. It turns out no one gives a flying fuck. No one cares… only us. Businesses want a website that makes money, people want a website that works, they don’t care about how they do that just that they can. The technology is invisible to them.
How does that reflect on us? Personally it has made me think that I cannot take for granted the level of understanding that I assumed was there. It also challenges how much we actually know about the people using the websites we build. Usabiliy, user experience and accessibility are banded about as if we really know how people use our systems. Instead of listening to this and really trying to understand our users we chalk it up to “stupid users” and “stupid clients”. “It is their fault that they don’t know how to do this”, that to me smacks of arrogance, that we are really building websites for ourselves and not for the people who actually need to use them.
The truth is in the web industry we live in a bubble, we think people care about attribute selectors or whether IE6 is old and decrepid. The truth is they don’t, just as I don’t care how the CCD on my camera records pictures I just need it to work when I need it. We can never think like those who get confused about whether a website is Facebook or not, you cannot undo knowledge and you cannot undo years of learning. The only option is usability testing and a lot more empathy from those in our industry.
It’s time to stop saying “stupid users” and start saying “stupid me”!