User Error is Our Problem, Not Theirs! | January 17, 2007
I witnessed something happen on a web developer mailing list the other day which I’m not proud of, but which is all too common in our industry. A group of experienced users rounded on a group of less experienced users for making a simple error, and then proceeded to put them down in public for their “stupidity and laziness” in not learning the system.
Sadly this is an all too common event when the technically astute developer come in touch with user error. Rather than blaming the system they created, these developers are all too keen to blame the users for their error. This reaction is somewhat understandable, as the developers know the system inside out and understand how it works. There is a good chance they even created part of the system and imbued it with their world bias. Because of this domain knowledge they just don’t understand how another users can’t get what they find so easy.
The problem is, most people don’t want to master the system, they simply want to get their tasks done in the simplest way possible. Users don’t sit and ponder all the possible options before making a choice. Decisions are made in a split second and are usually based on the first best guess. Apart from being looked down upon by developers, this approach has a low cost of failure and makes a perfect coping strategy.
It is all too easy to blame users for their mistakes and has become a bit of an in joke in developer circles. I’m sure we’ve all heard the story about the user calling tech support because his computer wouldn’t turn on, only to realise later that he’s in the middle of a blackout. However, while funny, there stories help to create an us and them attitude of superiority. The truth is, we are all that “dumb” users at some stage in our lives and shouldn’t write off other peoples experiences just because of our own personal biases.
In most cases, it’s not the fault of the user for making an error. It’s the fault of the system for allowing the error to be made. Ultimate responsibility for the error lies with the developers of the system, the very people who are so quick to scoff at their users stupidity.
So I implore you, “don’t be that guy”. See every user error as a gift. An opportunity to exercise your problem solving skills and make the system smarter. After all the goal of technology should be to empower people, not to make them feel stupid and inferior.
Posted at January 17, 2007 2:57 PM