About 10 years ago, one weekend I drove up to an ATM in Upstate NY, and found an elderly couple standing there, looking confused. After a minute, I stopped the car and got out. Both were well-dressed (probably coming home from church); the gentleman was about 90; his wife was a similar age.
"Is everything OK?" I asked.
"Could you help us?", she said (he was too proud to ask for help, I guess).
"Sure! What can I do for you?" I replied.
"You see, the bank sent us this card and said we should be using it, instead of going to the teller inside. But we don't know what to do with it."
Wow. I was shocked. The bank (HSBC) had not even told them how to use the card. And I was surprised that there existed people who didn't know how to use an ATM in this country!
So I showed them where to insert the card; told him to enter his PIN (while I looked away so I wouldn't see it). I advised them about the security implications; and how to always collect the card after you're done (those ATMs kept the card for the duration, unlike newer ones where you just swipe).
I was left with a sad feeling after that, which I can still remember. If I'm ever designing software for general use, I always think about that couple and try to see it from their eyes.
We talked about a simplified Netflix-type account/device that would make suggestions, be dead simple to use, and allow an 80-90 year old to re-watch old classics, view documentaries and the like without commercials, repeats, confusion, etc. If something reasonable existed, who wouldn't shout their elderly parents or grandparents something like this for $xx/mo. Ideally, older generations would have a diverse range of friends and social activities to while away their hours, but often this just isn't the case and they are stubborn, have language barriers if immigrants, etc.
OTOH it wouldn't help everyone: my grandmother treats anything electronic as 'too complicated' without even trying at this point, though the TV remote is the conspicuous exception to the rule.
Children normally find it easier to adapt to new things. E.g. "Hole in the Wall" experiments:
Not sure, if this is slightly off-topic, but sometimes users ask pretty interesting questions. Circa, 1997 I visited a computer training institute to meet one of my friends who was a Lab Technician. There was a batch of interesting people: only one of them would sit in front of a desktop and all 38 would line up around him, despite terminals being available for all of them. Now, this guy is trying to type "dir /s" and while hitting the Spacebar a question pops in his mind: "Why do you need to hit the Spacebar with thumb?"
I started thinking about how it is more efficient to hit the Spacebar with thumb, the notion of finger travel in miles per annum etc., while my friend replied curtly to that 55 year old student: "Sir, do you start your Scooter by hitting the `kick' by foot or by palm?" He gulped the tobacco he was chewing up.
During that year, I rolled out a desktop application in a smallish organization and was astonished to meet users who were typists-turned-computer-operators. I couldn't grasp as to why they found my code to be so user-friendly. Turned out that a key decision in the beginning of the project helped me: all labels in the application were in Marathi.
Re: parent's post, in the case of ATM machine, if they keep a microphone disguised in the form of telephone handset connected to the machine itself, driven by an AI program (without the press 1 for foo, press 2 for bar type of idiocy) might be of great help.
Related TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_the_child_driven_educa...
Not so different from many of us (like myself) who learned programming functionally. Very inspiring article, thanks.
The real version is animated (you seen the card entering the slot)
EDIT: Someone made a video... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zzEXfX_Otk
There's a definite trade-off here: on the one hand, people are less likely to forget to take their cash; on the other hand, people who find a forgotten card in an ATM are unlikely to abuse it, but if they find cash, they'll probably just pocket it.
The first ATM I used in Thailand a few years ago, dispensed the cash and then gave the card back. Needless to say I walked off with my money and no card. That turned into a fun holiday....
I'd suspect that they want to keep the opportunity to seize the card until the last possible moment.
I think it has more to do with giving the machine the ability to not give the card back. :-)
ATMs that keep your card for the duration of the transaction only serve to decrease trust in the mechanism.
Remember, credit cards originated before there was universal ubiquitous connectivity. It's still no guarantee (think of a small merchant at some outdoor festival). EMV (Chip and PIN) cards have an offline mode which an bad guy can use.
In the past, there were modes that allowed you to overdraw your account with an ATM. I imagine this was done in consideration for unreliable communications links or banks that needed downtime in their account balances for batch transaction processing.
"Trust" is a deep and strange concept, but at the end of the day US ATM cards are only a mag stripe and a 4-digit PIN. We'd best not expect too much from them. :-)
I still think ATMs that eat your card up are terrible.
ISO-8583 defines two response codes that cause an ATM to retain your card:
41 - Pickup card (lost card)
43 - Pickup card (stolen card)
It is up to the issuing bank to decide whether to return those codes, or not.
My experience first came when I was helping my dad get a webcam working and I've gone looking for them since, and I'm sure that has gone a long way toward making me a better engineer and a better product manager.
Almost ironically, I struggle to hold our team to our own UI best practices; to ensure our interfaces and content are approachable. We're always crushed by deadlines — the time it takes to be sure we haven't made any literacy assumptions is time we don't have. It's my job to make developing this sort of UI/UX absolutely painless. Unfortunately, I get almost no opportunities to actually test with our zero-experience users. This article was a wonderful read, and gave me a very specific type of knowing satisfaction. It's a rare opportunity indeed.
As for those best practices, here are a few examples:
• Emphasize actionable items with animations, and textual and pictorial descriptions of the actions that must be taken. Instead of saying "right click", we might show a picture of the mouse with the right button highlighted, with a "clicking" animation indicating the action to be performed.
• Use iconography and terminology derived from the subject matter or real-world objects, instead of common "abstract" UI elements. For instance, a light switch (indicated as actionable, of course) instead of a check box.
• Simplify user interactions and interfaces to the absolute minimum. Reduce the actions the user must perform in order to be satisfied. Reduce the number of options presented to the user at any one time.
In many ways, designing an interface for a zero-experience user is like choosing a programming language: You want the language that lets you describe exactly the program you need to make in as few instructions as possible. Likewise, you want an interface that lets your users describe exactly the action they need the program to perform in as few interactions as possible.
We don't have any sort of outlet for our experiences as developers in this market / with this audience. If we ever start one, I'll be sure to post about it here on HN.
On a related note, I'd to point out that your blog is, for lack of a better term, scary. The huge-ass fixed-position header gets in the way, the line spacing is way too tight and the colors are too garish and uncoordinated. My first reaction when I saw the page was "augh!" which then faded as my brain slowly peeled away all the visual clutter and started noticing the content.
A good start is to just put their hand on the mouse, put your hand over theirs, and tell them to watch the cursor.
Seems like you just have to hit the mall. What kind of software are you guys making?
This equipment is the heavy machinery they tell you not to operate when you take medication, or the sort you see on the Discovery Channel when they talk about the world's biggest construction projects. Machines described by schematics with thousands of components, that come in manuals thousands of pages long. These machines have hydraulic, electrical, and process (computational) systems that all interact in a complex ballet of physical forces and remarkable engineering. And they all break down — constantly.
When the equipment fails, these lumberjack-types have to look up the schematics and deduce exactly what broke on their machine. An hour of downtime can cost tens of thousands of dollars, so they're under tremendous pressure to get repairs done quickly. However, they aren't analytical thinkers (in the typical case), so they aren't great at deducing the root cause of failure. They resort to "part-swapping", where they replace components until the problem goes away. Some of these components cost upwards of a hundred thousand dollars and can take 8 hours to install.
This is where we come in. By commission, we take the manuals for a machine, and compile the anecdotal experiences of its operators and mechanics. We then produce a highly-interactive, true-to-life simulation of the machine, with animated schematics that show off exactly what's happening while it's running, in both normal and faulted states. With these tools, they can actually see how the "damn thing" works, top-to-bottom, inside-and-out. This helps them operate in a way that will avoid driving the machines to fail, and grok the machine well-enough to isolate root causes when it does fail.
I could go on and on about this.. another time, perhaps.
Alas, we don't have a blog about what we make. Perhaps I should start one.
Seems like there is an inefficiency in the system somewhere though -- if downtime is so expensive why are they not paying better trained people to be mechanics? At $10K\hour a skilled mechanic/engineer would only have to save an hour or two a month to justify having them sit around idle most of the time.
A lot of these industrial companies do have very bright engineers on staff, and they regularly hire consultants and analysts, and they have the money to pay companies like mine to create highly-specific simulations. I'm not sure where the balance is struck, or why they have the organization that they do, but they're suffering on many levels without the insight to address it.
For my own professional development, I would like to better understand the motivations of these industrial mega-corps. I get the sense that they often don't understand themselves, and suffer from a sort of cultural poisoning.
The "meta-game" of my business is figuring out how each of these companies think. Ultimately, we're hired to solve problems, and the software we make is but a tool to this end. You'd be surprised by how often we're commissioned for a tremendous project, with specific requests for software, which is completed to the great stated satisfaction of the client... only to discover that they haven't actually used what we've built.
The mechanical failure of equipment and the hardship of repairs-people is a symptom. Training is a remedy, but sometimes it's for the wrong illness.
I imagine it is in some ways similar to the experience of B2B venders working at the mega-enterprize level, except in our case we're dealing with organizations that are almost universally resistant to computers themselves, in addition to the usual bureaucracy. Fascinating market, really fundamentally different than the other markets I've worked in, both in terms of development and business constraints.
Reminds me of my mother. She had a stand-alone word processor back in the day, w/ keyboard, monochrome screen, floppy drive, and daisy wheel. All commands were performed through the keyboard, with prompts on the bottom two lines of the screen, ala emacs.
She was real pro w/ this thing. She taught herself how to use it, and never needed any help from me.
Fast forward to her first personal computer, w/ mouse and icons, and she didn't get it. 10 years later and she still doesn't get it. In fact, it is a major source of anxiety. She doesn't explore the interface because she might get lost and won't be able find her way back to where she was. What do all those icons do? Who knows. She follows a very narrow course through the 4 or 5 tasks that she's familiar with, and that's it. She's almost superstitious about it.
None of this would be terribly remarkable if I didn't know she'd been such an expert user of the old standalone word processor. But she was. And whatever it was about the old machine that worked, it didn't carry over to the new age of mice & GUIs.
[for a similar perspective, see the discussion over at metafilter: http://www.metafilter.com/105309/You-have-to-click-on-the-te...]
A few weeks ago, I visited a cousin who had recently bought a new fridge with "high-tech" water dispenser. I'm a big water drinker. When I went to the fridge to get some cold water, I felt really stupid for not knowing how to work a freaken water dispenser. It had a ton of buttons the real button to make it give you water looked like it was part of the door, not a press-able thing. The design could have been done better.
How many times have you been at someone's house and needed to use their microwave and it takes more time figuring out how to make the thing go than to actually heat the food? And even if you've used the exact same microwave 4 weeks ago, it still feels brand new and you feel just as lost.
Whether it's directions to a location or how to use an app/device, it may not stick.
Designing for computer illiterates but decently intelligent people seems like a worthy ideal to strive for. You may never get to a point where someone brand new to computers will feel comfortable with your app but keeping it in mind might help guide us into making small tweaks that can add up a big difference.
One example: With WordPress, you can add a search element to your site/blog. The default language of the label is "To search, type and hit enter." This is probably more clear than "Search this site" or plain "Search" but maybe not as clear as "To search, click here, type and hit enter."
Yes, it's more verbose. No, I'm not suggesting that WP should change the default text.
You have to strike a balance between being clear and not boring your audience by telling them what they already know but when in doubt, err on the side of clarity.
Guess which interface is universally preferred? (And I work in the company of lots of smart people here in Cambridge.)
A simple knob gives you all that, and no button required at all.
For power perhaps a two-state switch would work nice.
This would be like approaching someone in their teens who still cannot read and trying to design a book you are writing to be more accessible to them instead of your general readership.
It's simply a matter of hand-on, over time. I've converted a few AOL users over the years to Firefox, etc. and there is absolutely nothing you can do to improve their experience beyond a very basic level. They just have to use it for a year and go through their own trial-and-error of learning.
Even so, it's still a great article, as I think sometimes that 'first-time user experience' can also translate to 'new to English user experience', too.
Not every aspect of a program has to be designed for beginners. But having just one clear item to get people started might be a boon. It doesn't have to assume no knowledge of computers; perhaps just no knowledge of the problem domain or the particular program's workflow.
There are millions who do have some money, but those already know how phones, computers etc. work.
People also might be perfectly well fed and healthy, but live in rural areas, or be elderly, or have learning disabilities.
People who were once very poor can start receiving extra income (and that is particularly true in the BRIC countries) and gain access to computers.
People interact with new interfaces all the time, and not all user interaction occurs with a computer.
So, there definitely is a market for those complete novices. Regardless, understanding how people interact with new interfaces for the first time is interesting. Joe's case is only a single instance of this situation (and perhaps extreme, given the context). Every time a new interaction model is developed, the insights from such an experiment might prove useful.
Coca Cola and Pepsi realized that they need to trap this market hence they decided to come up with very small bottles that cost around half of a normal drink bottle and this strategy got them millions.
Similarly for stuff like Shampoo, ice cream and so on. Same thing can be applied to electronic items as well.
The reason I say this is because you cannot define a "rational" set of relative preferences. It is hard to say whether or not someone insanely frugal like Sam Walton is acting rationally or not, for example.
Irrational behavior, in this context, could be that someone does value food over phones, but somehow ends up constantly buying phones to his misfortune. Not the same as someone who actually values phones over food.
 - http://cshared.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Screenshot-xam...
2) to complement save-as (aka, poor-man's branch)
Exactly. Today we use save and save-as as crippled forms of versioning. We can do better.
If it ain't broke...
How many times have you heard someone complain they failed to save their work? It just shouldn't happen - the computer knows exactly what was inputed - why should it ever lose track of it.
The "Save" function is a carry-over from the time when storage was expensive and slow, and humans had to make decisions about what was worth saving. Now, computers generate a lot more useless logfiles that are saved forever than a human can possibly generate using a word processor, and yet we are asked to make a decision about if we really meant to put out inputs into a computer.
That shouldn't happen any more, and with good software it doesn't.
In Google Docs - for example - there is no "Save" function - it happens everytime you press a button. There is no "Save As"; instead there is "Rename..", "Make a Copy.." and "Download As.." which perform the distinct functions rather than overloading "Save As.."
Yeah, that too. Duplicate, or export, or copy.
Power users already have their more powerful alternatives and non-power users are used to what they know.
What?! Why should only “power users” be allowed the luxury of never losing important data? We can make that easy too.
Furthermore, nobody is forbidding them from using the tools "power-users" use. The only difference between power users and regular users is what tools they choose to use.
Do you believe the solutions we have today are decent enough and cannot be improved further? I wish handling files was so simple that even those you call “non power-users” (i.e. pretty much everyone) could work with versioned files.
Note that I am neither saying it's easy nor that it is appropriate for every program. But it is definitely possible: http://www.apple.com/macosx/whats-new/auto-save.html
We have that already, it's called persistent undo and/or save as. Stunningly, a versioning system designed for the technologically illiterate doesn't measure up to one designed for coders.
Auto-save is a separate issue, but we have that as well...
I've got my parents using Spotlight and they just dump files into the Documents folder. They are much happier with find>file than doing the browse>navigate.>.>.>file.
If they never had to select to save files to begin with, it would be even easier.
I wonder, however, how Joe would have fared with an iPad?
Edit: oops on the gender.
Where she has difficulty is understanding what you’d use the net for (“You can get recipes on the internet?”). She needed it though - her current way of getting information is Teletext (UK-wide information system built into analogue TV broadcasts). That gives her weather, stocks+shares, TV listings and news, but is being turned off next year when they turn off analogue broadcasts to free up spectrum space. Digital terrestrial TV has the 'red button' info system but it contains dramatically less information.
It is also generally presented in a much less confusing way than any other format, and doesn't have thousands of distracting ads all over the place.
Same article says though that 90% of the Netherlands uses cable TV and that’s mostly still analogue (guess that’s how he gets Teletext?)
Apparently the last remaining WebTV portal server at Microsoft is getting dusty and flaking out sometimes, so we bought him an iPad (his vision is pretty good.) We preloaded it with bookmarks to local news, stocks, weather, email, a few little reference sorts of apps, and a few games (e.g. he really likes Cribbage.)
At first, he was pretty skeptical, but we spent a few hours showing him all the stuff he could do with it, and he figured it out pretty easily. Now he's perfectly happy with it and likes it a lot better than his WebTV. I'm not sure if he really has a conceptual model of the Internet or anything, but he can do all the stuff he cares about easily.
The most amazing thing to him is Google Maps. He could hardly believe that he could just flick around and see a picture of his house and our houses and all the houses of his friends. I'm not sure he actually bought it when I told him that they drove a car around every street and took pictures.
(This does not mean that touch interfaces are better, though -- just that they are more intuitive.)
My grandmother also figured out the iPad's UI quickly, although she has almost zero experience using computers, and struggles to work her phone. I didn't explore how much more she could do with it though.
Surprisingly though, my father in law, a doctor with some computer experience, struggled a little with his iPad, and only uses it for online banking. I think it had to do with un-learning his old habits.
What I guess from this very small sample is that a touch interface is more intuitive for novices, but could be troublesome for those with some, limited computer experience.
I'm sure there's tons of research being done into this stuff...hopefully it will be distilled into an accessible form soon [an updated Design of Everyday things say].
My 2-yr old has gleefully wiped my PIN-locked iPhone several times, as it was synced to corporate Exchange (Here Daddy! sigh Thank you, dear).
However, if the menu bar was enabled, the user could go Help->Firefox Help and just at the bottom of screen without scrolling is 'Getting started with Firefox'.
Unfortunately the first video talks about bookmarking facebook, doing random searches, keeps talking about how awesome Firefox is and all fast paced and not slow at all.
One thing that I have always noticed to be true (and frustrating) is that new users try to do as little as possible. They try to stay as safe as possible. They want to do one thing, and once they find a solution - any solution - that works, that's what they keep doing. They don't click on strange icons or try new things just because they can. They don't explore because they don't understand, and in my experience they usually think that something will go wrong and they will break the computer if they click somewhere they aren't supposed to. It's hard for us to imagine someone going in with no prior knowledge of how a program is supposed to behave. We have certain minimum expectations, (e.g. there should be a menu bar somewhere in the top left of the screen) and knowledge (you can't do much of anything without clicking the mouse) that they lack that makes what is painfully obvious to us confusing and unintuitive to them.
[x] Get upvote for the comment
[_] Just type comment without help
[_] Don't show me this tip again
I found the best way to help these people is just to put them in front of a computer and walk them through the basics. Also metaphors are huge. It is always easier to understand something when you can relate to it. For example: My documents is like your filing cabinet. Everything is organized into folders so you can find where it is.
The most interesting thing was when the ipad came out. We were seeing people who barely knew what the internet was trying to buy and use one of these things. Try explaining 3G to someone who doesn't have a cell phone. Almost impossible. I remember one man who was so frustrated that he couldn't set up email that he announced that he would give $20 to the person who would do it for him.
// Not that frustrated then. $200 now that's more frustrated!
But to suggest that iconography and buttons in general are unique to digital interfaces is inaccurate, and recounting one man's first interaction with a computer as "user testing of browsers" comes across as a sensational misrepresentation of what user testing is, and what education-by-interface should be.
Let's not show an entrenched English speaker Japanese and claim that it is the language's responsibility to immediately map to his mental model of English. Learning falls on a motivated student (which Joe, with self-proclaimed "no excuse[s]" for never using a computer, was not) matched with an expert evangelist like Jennifer Boriss, in the event of a total failure of comprehension.
#1 IE defaults to a blank page in what appears to be private browsing mode, rather than Bing as it does on any new windows install. He's somehow running IE on a Mac which may be why.
#2. Someone checked out San Francisco Yelp on Chrome and as a result there's a link for it.
#3. "We shouldn’t assume that new users will inquisitively try and discover how new software works by clicking buttons and trying things out." That's probably misleading for 99.99999% of your audience. Yeah, the one adult on the planet who never used a computer before might be scared to death to play around with it, but you shouldn't design with that in mind (unless you're somehow aiming a product at them, in which case good luck with that sir). Put a 7 year old on a computer and he'll figure out how to find a restaurant in 10 minutes.
To a point, maybe. Could that 7 year old figure out how to install lynx and find a restaurant at a blank console by reading man pages? Probably not.
Try to remember your first time using a computer. My early years were spent using a C64 to play games off of floppy drives, and I still remember the explicit steps: LOAD "*",8,1. I have no idea what that did, and treated it like a black box. Do not stray off the beaten path, for here be dragons.
Designing an "intuitive" interface true to the word is almost impossible. Experienced users can look at a new UI developed with standard design principles and navigate through it without frustration. But this is not called "intuition;" This is called past experience.
Now, rollover pop-up text that describes functionality may add a level of intuitiveness to a system. But why create a help menu for how to use the mouse or how to single click in a text field before you can type in it? Many of those users who aren't experienced are left behind only because it is usually not economical to market to them.
In software with big, deep menus with an unclear logic/organization, I've used this quite a bit.
She was just ready to google a solution, as I asked for using help menu, which indeed helped her. She used it before but typed in "remove" instead of "delete" (or vice versa, in reality it was entfernen vs löschen)
I was typing a response in this post and I wanted to italicize a word. I know different systems have different ways to do that, so I just guessed and tried <i></i> like in HTML, which I learned in fourth or fifth grade. No go, which didn't surprise me because nothing takes HTML input anymore. So I tried [i][/i] as if typing a message on a phpBB forum. No go. So I clicked to edit the post again and just surrounded the word with /slashes/ to indicate it was italicized in my mind. And then I noticed the little tiny help link next to the text box and clicked on it. Help, to use italics? Lame. But it worked (see what I did there?). Here is something interesting: that help link doesn't show up for an initial comment, only if you go in to edit it.
I do recall using it a long time ago, say, 15 years earlier to, to find my way around Excel and Word, but not in the last decade.
Especially "Check for updates", which is the worst thing you can do to a user who is looking for help.
But normally help doesn't help - it asks me for a foo-binding-string, I go to the help to see what one should look like for this program, the help says nothing more than "enter your foo-binding-string here".
It's basically spotlight/windows search for menu items.
Having said that - the HN audience is most likely a massively different audience to the sort of people that would ordinarily rely on the Help button - people like Joe.
I now use man pages and google mostly.
When I'm 60 in ~30 years maybe I'll be clinging to ancient things like notebooks and tablets because I know how to use them, and kids will point and laugh while they use the modern stuff.
In my interactions with older relatives, the thing I find that they have the biggest problem with is that they don't try to explore how the computer behaves because the are afraid of breaking something.
So, personally, I think that Apple should advertise it's guest mode for OS X additionally as a "Learn New Things" mode where they very clearly explain that any changes they make are not going to be permanent and that by shutting off the computer, everything can go back to normal (maybe create a simulated web as well). Then there could be a series of tutorial on making significant, (normally) permanent changes to the computer's behavior.
She could have benefited from a dumbed-down interface for the things she struggled with. Picasa was as close as I could get as simple photo management, but she needed something even more seamless and simple.
It makes me wonder why there aren't more companies creating products like the Jitterbug ( http://www.greatcall.com/ )--for those of you unaware, the Jitterbug is a cellphone with very large buttons and a presumably easy-to-navigate menu system, with concierge operator service for remedial support tasks ("I need to check my voicemail").
Maybe we have tried making extremely simplified UIs for common computing tasks, and failed (Clippy/MS Bob)? Is there an extremely simple photo management app (or something on the Mac) that I'm unaware of?
A recent example with my little step-brother: he had no problem whatsoever to use the trackpad and click buttons of my laptop to choose another Thomas or Beyblade episode on YouTube. Three years old. And he only saw me do it a few times and then I wanted to read my book without being interrupted every 5 minutes so I told him "use the trackpad, it's this stuff here, use your finger on it and it moves the cursor here [I'm pointing my finger to the cursor on the screen]. When the cursor is on the images of the video you want to see next, you click this button [I'm pointing my finger to the left-click button]". He didn't even asks any other questions. He still interrupted me every 5 minutes but to show me that he just launched the new video by himself... :-).
To emphasize my point, it's not him who is particularly able, his older brother, who is five years old now, was exactly the same at his age.
Older folks are better at analysis and strategy but have a tendency to see things in terms of what they already know. After all, for most of human history, once you learned how the world worked it didn't really change much for the rest of your life.
This was even before he figured out real world things like stuffed animals.
I don't understand this kind of criticism.
I get into my car. The accelerator doesn't have "Press here to move more quickly" written on it. The brake doesn't have "Press here to stop". The horn doesn't have "Press me if the big light outside is green but the aluminium box with wheels in front of you is stationary"
If you lower your standards to silly degrees, people will mill around that lower standard. I've seen tertiary students reach for the calculator to find out what 3 x 0.2 is, simply because they can get away with not putting in any effort. Naives that need more help should get specialised help to get them over the hump - normal users shouldn't have to deal with UX chaff just on the off chance some random person might choose one day to pick up a computer and try to learn it without asking anyone for any help.
No-one learns to drive all by themselves. Or cook. Or read. Or dress themselves. Would we really want pants to come with a permanently attached set of instructions on how to wear them, just in case someone who always wore skirts might one day try pants on a whim?
A UI should be constructed for a userbase, and the "have never used a computer before, ever, but am trying right now and will only do this on my own" demographic for search engines is miniscule. One wonders how such a person can get to the search engine in the first place - it's certainly not like Duck Duck Go is the default homepage for any browser.
Early automobile-carriages (cars) had reins! So you could operate them like a horse! But fortunately smarter people invented more direct controls suitable for operating engines.
Example: the Save button looks like a floppy. WTF?
I think there is room for a UI that is direct, not a baroque collage of every UI that came before.
A bit of an off-topic: the real WTF for me is that there is such a thing as a save button. I cannot fathom that most software requires us to perform an ancient ritual lest they throw away our hard work.
 - Yes, I could hit the undo button repeatedly, since any editor worth its salt will have a virtually-unlimited undo. But it's reassuring to know that you've undo-ed to exactly the right point--in Vim, at least, the "+" indicating a modified file disappears once you've undone all your changes.
If we were to do away with the save button, the rest of the “working with files” story would have to be thoroughly rethought.
If I'm using a word processor that is automatically saving, why should I have to then explore my hard drive to find the file and examine previous versions? The app I am using needs to present this interface (even if it is ultimately supplied by the OS, like save dialogues).
Don't get me wrong, I'm not against change in UIs. I am against designing specifically to cater for the lowest common denominator in general use applications if it means more chaff for the user with average skills.
Clearly the search engines have all weighed the tradeoffs of appearing too helpful for first-time users and cluttering the screen for regular users.
The car analogy is poor because you are required by law to take lessons in most (all?) countries. It's quite common for people to struggle to afford driving lessons and it slows down the adoption of cars, are you implying that the same should be true for computers?
The search engine was the default page in the Firefox screenshot so it's safe to assume some will see it.
UI should be constructed for a userbase, however, technically literate, westerners who have spent most of their adult life with easy access to technology, are not the only userbase or even the majority in the world.
30.2% of the world have internet access, so it's fair to assume many have not used a computer and will not know anyone who has when they start
Just like many "technically literate" westerners 15 years ago.
The car analogy is poor because you are required by law to take lessons in most (all?) countries.
Please, learn to understand metaphors - I was illustrating a point, not making a mathematical proof. Also, I think you mean you are required by law to pass a test, not take lessons. Certainly when I did my driver's test, they didn't grill me on the amount of time spent learning, but on how I actually drove.
Yes, Firefox's default homepage is a custom page that is a front-end for Google. It is not Google.
If you're honestly suggesting for a single, globally accessible webpage, you're going to run into i18n trouble long before you have to worry about alienating unmotivated users. I find this point of yours weird given that I thought I was fairly clearly indicating that I was talking about current search engine userbases, not 'all possible userbases that might ever be'
And if most of the world is not technically literate, so? They're not going to become any more so because of a simple friendly sentence on a search engine that they can't get to by themselves anyway. The same thing will happen in the developing world as it did here in the west: the motivated and eager blaze the way, and the knowledge filters down to everyone else through them.
Twenty years ago we didn't even have Mosaic. Everything the laypeople of the west have learned about using the internet has been learned in a mere 15 or so years. Pretty amazing especially considering that the internet itself was still figuring out what it was useful for during that time.
Before the 90s, laypeople in the west had access to technology in the form of tvs, remote controls, microwaves. Anywhere there is electricity, people have access to the same kind of technology - physical buttons control functions. If there's electricity, folks will have at least a similar level of understanding as pre-internet westerners (no point in providing electricity to people who don't have lights or appliances, after all). If there's no electricity... well... computers are going to have a hard time running.
If every new computer user was required to spend every minute they used a computer with a experienced person until they took a test, then I would agree that computers do not need to be easier to use.
Computers on the other hand don't have the potential to maim or kill people in the hands of a naive user. Mistakes are free of cost (well, apart from a few seconds of time). And even to use said search engine, not only must you have been able to navigate to it, you also have to have an idea of using a mouse and a keyboard. The Enter key is not necessarily obvious. Neither are the control or function keys. Should computer cases be engraved with instructions on every step of the way? Apple isn't going to like having to engrave what the option key does, just in the off chance an utter naive should choose to use one of their computers. I guess what I'm getting at here is: how low do you want the bar?
There is no such thing as an intuitive interface that isn't learned.
I had the same encounter with my mom and although she had used a computer before the experience was just as crazy.
Here is an excerpt from the conversation.
But it shows why the Macintosh had in the 80s/90s no hidden context menus and only one mouse button (which is still mocked today). The difference between right and left click (which is really primary and secondary click) was really difficult to grasp.
"Click on the ok button"
"I don't see it (x5)"
"There is a gray rectangle with OK written on it, is that the OK button?"
"Double click on the icon... no click twice... yeah, like this but faster... faster... no slower than that..."
Really, its like when learning a new programming language, you just need a motivator. My mom learned it to build a genealogy tree and my dad now plays card games online.
During the interview Joe was "stressed," "taxed," "frustrated," and "confused." He was asked to try and fail to do things the author already knew he wouldn't be able to do. Repeatedly. The author was surprised that he would take failures personally, and described ending the interview as "cut[ting] Joe a break."
Really very generous, to cut Joe a break from the interview he volunteered for.
There is a serious lack of empathy on display in this post. Joe deserves an apology.
What are you talking about? Everything you know about Joe, you are learning from this post. If the author has no empathy, how come she can describe Joe's emotional state so accurately that it practically moves you to tears?
And I think you need to make allowances for the genre. This essay is a bit impersonal because it's a designer reporting to an audience of designers. The tone is necessarily a bit cold and analytical. I wouldn't assume that the actual interview went down like this, just as doctors don't talk to cancer patients the way they talk to other doctors, engineers don't talk to civilians the way they talk to other engineers, and sausage makers have secret ingredients because... you really don't want to know what they are. Just enjoy the flavor.
As for whether it is cruel to cause someone stress by asking them to use a UX that frustrates them: Well, maybe. But if you have ever shipped a product, you have caused such pain. Not one customer at a time, but wholesale: Dozens, hundreds, thousands or even millions of people have cursed your product. Such is the tragedy of the mass market: You can make the delight scale, but the frustration also scales. The authors of, say, Word didn't want to frustrate anyone to the point of tears, but every day thousands of people are so frustrated, because bugs are inevitable, and because no design can do everything, and because people don't always understand the mismatch between your product and their goals, and because computers are less personal than the least personable of persons.
But you're ignoring the most important part of my post.
If Joe had hired you to do an important job, and you needed the information the OP collected to get that job done, would you have gotten that information the way the OP did?
The ones to blame for Joe's stress and frustration are us software authors. We are already treating our customers that way.
But this user test, while fascinating, is somewhat artificial and it's probably not helpful to exaggerate its importance.
Joe was not a clean slate, he clearly was bringing in all kinds of baggage. He was ashamed he didn't already know. He'd already experienced failure with the discount card email experience. He had someone literally looking over his shoulder and taking notes on his failure. I'd feel kind of stressed out about it too!
Furthermore, he was given a specific task (locating a restaurant) with a completely general-purpose computer interface and absolutely zero help in figuring it out. Certainly this situation does occur in real life, but is it common enough that it should drive the design of user interface?
The mall probably already has a kiosk for those users with a touchscreen UI. It would be silly to expect every user to use nothing but a touchscreen interface. Oh wait a minute...
Dismiss the test subject right away since he had never used a computer and found trying to figure tasks out too difficult?
Would you treat him the way the OP did?
Would you ever even use the phrase "too difficult" ?
First, the mall can be a great place to do user testing, if you want to reach a broad audience. Except that I would imagine that you get more male participants, because they are waiting for their female partners more then the other way around.
Second, you need to test with your actual target audience. For Mozilla that is at least people who know how to use a computer to some degree.
It's entertaining and an interesting experiment, but I'm not sure how much it can really teach us about design for 99% of people who will be using the product.
I couldn't find any statistics on computer use, so the number is likely higher.
Joe: “I don’t know what anything means.”
(Joe reads the text on IE and clicks on “Suggested Sites”)
Me: “Why did you click on that?”
Joe: “I don’t really know what to do, so I thought this would suggest something to me.”
(Joe reads a notification that there are no suggestions because the current site is private)
Joe: “I guess not.”
To clarify: I was laughing at our industry as a whole that expects users to be computer literate to the point where ppl like Joe have to struggle really hard to get even the most basic thing done.