Tuesday, August 17, 2021

prokopetz on the tribulations of user-focused design

 While some people assume tumblr is a ghost-town, it actually is pretty vibrant, but is even more dependent on figuring out whom to follow than most social media. 

One of my favorite posters is prokopetz. He mostly talks about tabletop/roleplaying and games and general geek culture  (sometimes spinning off in hilarious ways with remarkable inversions) but I appreciated this take on user interface:

I guess a lot of my skepticism regarding user-focused design stems from working in tech support and witnessing first hand that user interfaces can only guide people to perform a task in a particular way if the method you have in mind is already very close to their prior assumptions about how the task ought to be performed.

If the way your UI thinks the task ought to be carried out and the way the user thinks the task ought to be carried out are very different, nine times out of ten what happens is that the user will Rube Goldberg together some bizarre workaround that’s ten times as complicated, takes ten times as long, and fights against the interface every step of the way, but preserves their prior assumptions, then become emotionally committed to their workaround and respond to any effort to demonstrate a more straightforward approach with extreme and disproportionate anger.

Critically, there doesn’t seem to be any way to avoid this scenario using pure design, because different people will have mutually exclusive prior assumptions about how the task ought to be performed, and you can’t possibly accommodate all of them. Conscientious design practices can supplement explaining shit in words, but they can’t replace it.

Figuring out the user’s possible mental model and explicitly hinting where it needs to be updated is so important! I’m a little more optimistic than the author, but still…

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