Bad UX and User Self-Blame - "I'm sorry, I'm not a computer person."
In my recent podcast with UX expert and psychologist Dr. Danielle Smith the topic of "user self-blame" came up. This is that feeling when a person is interacting with a computer and something goes wrong and they blame themselves. I'd encourage you to listen to the show, she was a great guest and brought up a lot of these points.
Self-blame when using technology has gotten so bad that when ANYTHING goes wrong, regular folks just assume it was their fault.
My dad got some kind of evil "PC Tech Hotline" on his machine today because some web site told him his "Google was out of date and that he should update his Google." So he did. And he feels super bad. Now, in this case, it was a malicious thing so it would be really hard to figure out how to solve this for all users. It's like getting mugged on the way to your car. It happens to the best folks in the best situations, it can't always be controlled. But it shouldn't cause the person to blame themselves! He shouldn't fear his own computer and doubt his skills.
People now publically and happily self-identify as computer people and non-computer people. I'll meet someone at a dinner and we'll be chatting and something technical will come up and they'll happily offer up "Oh, I'm not a computer person." What a sad way to separate themselves from the magic of technology. It's a defeatist statement.
Get a Tablet
Older people and people who are new to technology often blame themselves for mistakes. Often they'll write down directions step by step and won't deviate from them. My wife did that recently with a relatively simple (for a techie) task. She wanted to record a lecture with a portable device, load the WAV onto the PC, even out the speech patterns, save it as a smaller file (MP3), then put it in Dropbox. She ended up writing two pages of notes while we went over it, then gave up after 30+ min, blaming herself. I do this task now.
Advanced users might say, you should get your non-technical friend a tablet or iPad. But this is a band-aid on cancer. That's like saying, better put the training wheels back on. And a helmet!
Tablets might get a user email and basic browsing and protect them from basic threats, but most also restrict them to one task at a time. And tablets have hidden UX patterns as well that advanced users use, like four-fingered-swipes and the like. I've seen my great aunt accidentally end up in the iPad task switcher and FREAK OUT. It's her fault, right?
This harkens back to the middle ages when the average person couldn't read. Only the monks cloistered away had this magical ability. What have we done as techies to make regular folks feel so isolated and afraid of all these transformative devices? We MAKE them feel bad.
There used to be a skit on Saturday Night Live called "Nick Burns, Your Company's Computer Guy" that perfectly expresses what we've done to users, and to the culture. Folks ask harmless questions, Nick gives precise and exasperated answers, then finally declares "MOVE." He's like, just let me get this done. Ugh. Stupid Users. Go watch Nick Burns, this is a 19 second snippet.
I basically did this to my own Dad today after 45 min of debugging over the phone, and I'm sorry for it.
I'm not a techie
When users blame themselves they don't feel safe within their own computer. They don't feel they can explore the computer without fear. Going into Settings is a Bad Idea because they might really mess it up. This UX trepidation builds up over the years until the user is at a dinner party and declares publically that they "aren't a computer person." And once that's been said, it's pretty hard to convince them otherwise.
Even Google, the most ubiquitous search engine, with the most basic of user interfaces can cause someone to feel dumb. Google is a huge database and massive intelligence distilled down to a the simplest of UI - textbox and a button. And really, it's just a textbox these days!
But have all had that experience where we google for something for an hour, declare defeat, then ask a friend for help. They always find what we want on the first try. Was it our fault that we didn't use the right keywords? That we didn't know to not be so specific?
I think one of the main issues is that of abstractions. For us, as techies, there's abstractions but they are transparent. For our non-technical friends, the whole technical world is a big black box. While they may have a conceptual model in their mind on how something works, if that doesn't line up with the technical reality, well, they'll be googling for a while and will never find what they need.
Sadly, it seems it's the default behavior for a user to just assume its their fault. We're the monks up on the hill, right? We must know something they don't. Computers are hard.
How do YOU think we can prevent users from blaming themselves when they fail to complete a task with software
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