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I'm with Stupid

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Why smart people are so bad at computers, and what to do about it. (Keynote presentation, Arkansas Regional HighEdWeb conference, 2010)

Text of I'm with Stupid

  • 1. Im with Stupid why smart people are so bad at computers(and what to do about it)Stephanie Leary, @sleary, Texas A&M University

2. My Stupid Users faculty authorsstudentsMom Ive worked in the A&M Health Science Center, the System Offices, and now the Writing Center, a tiny office staffed mostly by student workers. I do freelance work for authors, mostly in science ction and romance. I also do my moms business site. 3. Working with MomWe go to great lengths to ensure easy understanding. We make the button look like something you can press. Anatomy of a Noob: of a Noob: Why Your Mom Sucks at Computers is a great article on the way real people use computers, and why the standard desktop-and-mouse interface just doesnt work for many people. 4. Working with MomWe use desktop as a reference,windows, pull-downs, accordions,etc. We call them metaphors, butvery seldom do we questionwhether those metaphors are asintuitive and universallyunderstood as we assume.Anatomy of a Noob: 5. Working with MomIn the case of my mom, there is obviously little connection between the physical desktop and its digital counterpart.Anatomy of a Noob: whole article is well worth reading, as are the comments on Hacker News in response. 6. And yea, upon teh n00bs, did Our Geek Jobs set His Obsessive Eye. And He brought forth a device of great sales potential: the iThing, which one can touch with thine nger.And lo! did teh n00bs poke and jabbeth at the iThing, achieving much of what was desired. 7. Working with ProfsThe computer just hates me. How many times have you heard this one? 8. Working with StudentsI thought it was just me. My students have a habit of not telling me about a problem with their proles or Word or the scheduling app or whatever... until they nd out that someone else is having the same problem. If one person has the problem, even if it happens every day for two weeks, theyll think theyre doing something to trigger it. 9. They assume theyredoing something wrong. 10. They cant see the interface holistically.When we-the-geeks see an application crash or toss an error message onto the screen, we understand whats happening. Our users dont. Theyre walking a tightrope every time they log in, and anything unexpected makes them fall off, leaving them completely helpless. 11. Facebook & ReadWriteWeb People dont notice peripherals: URLs, page titles, even design and layout. I noticed this ve years ago when I was working at the System Offices. Thats the umbrella administration over all ten Texas A&M Universities and its seven state agencies. When we surveyed our readers prior to redesigning the site, many of them told us we were missing information on specic degree programs, campus maps, and bus routes. Despite the different logo, URL, and site design, most of them had no idea they werent on the main campus website.People cant see websites holistically any better than they can desktops. Theyve developed sidebar blindness in addition to banner blindness. 12. Facebook & ReadWriteWeb People dont understand the difference between the location bar and the search box. For those who didnt hear about it, a few months ago, a news site called ReadWriteWeb had an article that, for some reason, became the #1 Google result for Facebook login within hours of its publication. The article has hundreds of comments from annoyed Facebook users who thought this article was a redesigned login page. 13. Facebook & ReadWriteWeb People use the search box as a natural-language command line interface. These comments generated a lot of derision from alpha geeks who didnt understand why someone would Google for the Facebook login page every time they wanted to use the site, rather than typing in the URL or using a bookmark.People dont understand the difference between the two text inputs at the top of their browser windows, but they do know that the one on the left generates an error message if you mess something up, whereas the one on the right understands what you ask it for and offers corrections if you misspell something.(Incidentally, I can think of three reasons people dont use bookmarks: theyre accustomed to losing them when something goes wrong with their roaming proles or when they switch or upgrade browsers; they know that when the website gets redesigned their old bookmarks will no longer work; and they dont know how to get into the bookmark manager to delete or update old bookmarks.) 14. If you arent familiar with Readability, you should check it out. Its a bookmarklet that strips ads and design elements from newspaper articles and blog entries and reformats the text according to your preferences.Why arent we designing pages like this in the rst place? 15. Theyre afraid to makethe wrong move.People use the more forgiving input, the search box, because they know bad things will happen if they make a mistake. Theyll see an error message that seems to be yelling at them, or theyll go to the wrong page. 16. Working with a Computer In abusive and controllingrelationships, the victim has thesense they are always walking oneggshells - fearful of saying ordoing anything that might prompta violent/intimidating outburst. Defending Windows over Mac a sign of mental illness 17. Working with a Computer In relationships with an abuser orcontroller, the victim has alsoexperienced a loss of self-esteem,self-condence, and psychologicalenergy. The victim may feel burnedout and too depressed to leave. Defending Windows over Mac a sign of mental illness 18. We are all trapped inabusive relationshipswith our computers.I read this article about seven years ago, and Ive often joked about it to my Windows-using friends, but really, its true for all of us. Mac users might not get slapped around quite as much unless were using Adobe products, but weve all grown accustomed to lost data, applications that crash, and error messages that dont tell us how to x or avoid the problem. 19. Our users are afraidand embarrassed to ask for help.Obviously, this is an exaggeration -- we dont fear for our physical safety when using a computer! -- but it does provide a useful model for understanding how our users think. 20. In response to the ReadWriteWeb/Facebook asco, a guy named Ed Finkler from Purdue wrote an article called Were the Stupid Ones. He said at rst, he laughed along with everyone else at the silly people who use Google to nd Facebook every day... but then he realized that weve failed as developers.He wrote, When folks need an elevator, we should give them an elevator, not an airplane. 21. Weve been giving them airplanes for 30 years, and then laughing at them for being too stupid to y them right. 22. Were the stupidones. 23. We work with very smart people.If these PhDs, these students with amazing resumes, are stupid users, then Im with stupid. 24. We can do better.How? 25. 1. Invite blame.The rst step is to make it easier to ask for help or report a problem. 26. Better 404s apologetic, personal language search for words in the bad URL show search box and sitemap Theres been a lot written about 404 error pages, so youre probably already doing a couple of these things.Start with the language. Most 404 errors say something like, The le you requested could not be found. Do you hear how passive that is? Take ownership of the problem! Im sorry. I couldnt nd the page you wanted. However, I searched for the words you entered, and I think one of these pages might be the one you were looking for... 27. DB & Server Errors phone numbers alternate methods But what about those other error messages? Dont let the server defaults appear here. Give people alternative ways to accomplish their tasks when the computer fails them. 28. Report a problem contact form that automatically llsin the referring URL link in every pages footer Link Checker extension Admit imperfection on every page. Invite people to tell you whats wrong, and do the hard part for them. It should be trivial to include the referring URL in a hidden form eld. 29. Phone Numbers Put the main ofce line in the page footer Add a phone number to the email contact form Make yourself available. Add phone numbers everywhere! Dont hide behind the mean machine. 30. 2. Find differenttesters.Dont rely on volunteers; theyre the ones who ARENT afraid of the computer. 31. Unusual Suspects people in waiting rooms brown-bag lunch attendees new hires retirees accident-prone users receptionistsGrab people who didnt come in to your office with the intention of helping out with the website. Ask them if they have two minutes to see how the website works for them, with you looking over their shoulders.Ask your new hires. They dont know where anything is yet.Do you have any retirees whove come back to work part time? They have very different perspectives.Get the accident-prone users to test your web apps. Theyll nd out what happens when you press the submit button forty times in two minutes.When you ask to meet with a group to go over their web content, most likely youre going to be talking to the person in charge of the group and maybe some subject matter experts. Are you also talking to the people who actually answer the phones? Theyre the ones who know what questions arent being answered on the website and which forms people cant nd. 32. 3. Change the goals.I dont mean lower the bar; I mean, look at your organizations strategic goals and see if ANY of them are based on your users needs, and not your own. 33. Users Goals accomplish tasks online 24/7 nd up-to-date information talk directly to professors,administrators, etc. This stuff is super basic. Is it in your strategic plan? Do you just assume youre going to do

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