Over the last few months I have come to the realisation that the only computer interface that any user is absolutely confident in is the the Desktop and the Icon. They ignore the Start Button ( or its variations ) the taskbar the window decorations heck even the right mouse button.
What reasons do I have for such a stark and irrational view on the state of our User Interfaces ?
Ive yet to meet a user who will confidently launch an application from anywhere other than the icon on the desktop. Often is the routine for me, that involves having to find the application and “create a shortcut on the desktop” to enable the user to work. This dependence on precreated icons seem to reduce the users ability to consider anything other than that one icon as a reliable source of their ability to work and achieve their daily goals. They simply do not believe that the Start Button leads to the programs and applications they need.
The argument put forward for this manipulated handling of user expectations is that of keeping things simple and easy. Unfortunately this particular ideology, “making things simple” for the user may have a detrimental affect on how the user is perceiving their environment. I have often had a conversation with users which revolve around how applications are broken , or uninstalled or missing because the “Icon” has disappeared from the desktop. When I ask the user ” Did you look in your program folder under the Start Button ?”. I will be greeted with looks of panicked terror or blank indifference. Unless Im launching myself to their location that minute to locate the offending missing Icon from the Start menu only to paste it defiantly upon their desktops then they dont feel im offering them a service.
What amazes me is how glibly users have allowed themselves to succumb to the zero effort, zero responsiblity mentality of zero training. If you dont know how to use something then its not your problem to fail to deliver. Somedays I wonder if the same users were to apply the same philosophy to the rest of office life would they last as long or be considered as heroic. Can you imagine the scenarios:
- I couldn’t call that client because the phone changed location on my desk and I wasn’t sure if it was okay to press the buttons.
- I would have written a note and posted it but there were not any pens on my desk! Oh you mean there in my drawers ?
- I can only drive Ford Escort 1.8s with automatic gears and petrol engines because that’s what im used to and that’s what I learnt.
These seem ridiculous observations until you consider they parallel the many calls and support enquiries I receive. Its amazing how much money is spent on my time to carry out tasks or explain procedures that would be completely unnecessary if the users received constant and relevant training. The operating systems that we are using today are based around concepts and ideas that are now well over 20 years old and businesses have been using computers and information technology for far longer. This topic is the elephant in the room or the emporers new clothes. Its about time we in the IT industry started asking our users, clients and suppliers as to why they keep investing thousands of pounds every year on an environment in which they still lack confidence and trust.
If it is the case that its hard to learn and adjust to new systems then all I can say is in changing to a new or different system will have
little or no impact on the real end user experience, all have Icons on a Desktop to access no matter what the desktop
operating system. If it is a case of retraining then would it not be better to ensure people understand the principals and metaphors and purposes over rote and drill operation of one or two applications . Certainly understanding increases confidence and fear breeds ignorance. Im constantly reminded that a computer is “Just a Tool” or that its just to “get things done”.
Next time you look at a tool chest ask yourself if you are as unfamilar with the operation of the many tools as you are with the tools on your computer.
Thanks for reading.