Design by Idiot

A wise man once said, “Don’t make me think.” Great concept – user-centered design. As designers and developers, let’s think like the user so they don’t have to think like us. The issue I have is when we start to believe that our users lack common sense or, even worse, the ability to think entirely. When we begin to lose this belief in our users, our users turn in to idiots. Sometimes, they become nothing more than mouse-wielding zombies. Individuals aimlessly clicking on a screen.

I’ll admit I have made a few confusing design choices. It’s part of the game. We do our best to get in people’s heads and make decisions based on their thought processes. Sometimes, we even get the opportunity to ask them what they’re thinking, but usually it’s a well-intentioned shot in the dark. With that said, we have to believe that the majority of users get it or can quickly understand.

During a recent project, we developed a front end for an application that needed to work on both desktop and mobile. We needed a check box type of solution that was fat finger friendly. The decision of the group was to use a switch rather than large obtrusive check box. The switch would have an on and off state with labels reading “Yes” and “No.” Fair enough. That should suffice. The user would click on the switch to set the answer to either “Yes” or “No.”

As the release date came closer, we began the testing phase of the project. A tester had created a bug stating that the switch was confusing to the user. He noted how users might see the default state of “off” with the label “No” showing, and thinking they want to answer “No” for the question would click it. This, of course, would set the value to “Yes.” As a result, users would be providing inaccurate information.

I was surprised when I ask a few coworkers, and they agreed with the issue of the potential confusion caused by a switch. It’s a switch. A switch! You use one several times a day. How can you claim that a user might not know what a switch is and what it does? I can see how a user could be confused and click on the switch. However once the user sees the switch change state, I have to believe most people would understand it is a switch and change its state appropriately. Furthermore, now armed with the knowledge of how this interface element works, the user will make appropriate choices going forward.

I have been wondering how this came about. I don’t remember ever being afraid to try new interfaces at any other company. It’s a website after all. I upload new assets and hit refresh. I soon realized that this company was lacking the ability to measure the performance of the interface. Furthermore, there was no system for testing multiple designs side by side (A/B testing). Without these key tools. Anyone would be afraid of taking chances. In a future post, I’ll address these issues and provide some strategies to avoid living in fear of innovation and resorting to design by idiot.

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