Menu Search
Jump to the content X X
Smashing Conf Barcelona

You know, we use ad-blockers as well. We gotta keep those servers running though. Did you know that we publish useful books and run friendly conferences — crafted for pros like yourself? E.g. our upcoming SmashingConf Barcelona, dedicated to smart front-end techniques and design patterns.

The Myth Of The Sophisticated User

As I sat in my local co-working space, shoulder-deep in a design problem on my MacBook Air, I could hear him. He was on the phone, offering screen-by-screen design recommendations to his client for the project they were working on. When this acquaintance of mine arrived at the subject of a particularly hairy task flow, he said, “Well, these aren’t going to be very savvy users, so we should probably put some instructions there.” He followed this by rattling off some dry, slightly too formal line intended to clear up any confusion about the page.

The Myth Of The Sophisticated User1
Image Source: Robb North2

It was an act that reflected his apparent belief that some savvier type of user is out there who would immediately understand the screen and could live without the instructive text. I cringed. I’ve heard the same suggestion on far too many phone calls, and it’s been wrong every time. To shed light on my reaction to it and to illustrate why such a suggestion is problematic, let’s consider a quick tale of two users.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

A Tale Of Two Users Link

First up is the type of user who my acquaintance thought he was trying to help. Let’s call him John.

John is a guy with little experience using the Web beyond the typical. He pays a few bills, Facebooks a few friends, buys the occasional bauble, but he has found himself having to use this fancy new internal Web app as part of his job, the one designed by the person in my co-working area.

At the next desk over is Jane, a tech-savvy user who spends nine hours a day doing one thing or another on a variety of screens — her laptop, her phone, her tablet — and whose hobby is loading up on as many apps as she can find. She’s never met a problem the Internet couldn’t solve. She has chops, and she loves to use them.

When John approaches this complicated Web app, he knows a couple of things: that he has to learn to use the thing in order to do his job, and that he often struggles to understand the complicated interfaces that seem to come at him from every direction these days. He’s not excited about having to cope with this one, too.

Jane, on the other hand, is a “producer.” She gets things done, and she pushes this app’s buttons without hesitation. The list in her to-do app has a hundred things on it, and doing work on this app is just one of a slew of tasks whose ass she’ll kick before even heading out for lunch.

John and Jane both see the same screen, but they see different things there. Their understanding and familiarity with it are not the same; their confidence in conquering it is at different levels; and different psychological factors are at play when they interact with it. For John, the pressure is in figuring out how to do this part of his job so that he can get back to nervously doing the others. For Jane, the pressure is in cranking through this so that she can devour the next item on her list.

Identical Needs Link

Now comes the part that too few people who make design decisions realize: while John and Jane have different problems and are different types of users, their needs are identical. In short, they both want to get the hell off this screen. John is unconfident, and Jane has other things to do. They both need the screen to make sense. They both need the task flow to be obvious. They both need to just get past it.

So, which user was my acquaintance helping by adding instructions to the page? In truth, the answer is probably neither.

The only reason a line of instruction would help John is because the screen was designed for Jane, whose vast experience helps her decipher the purpose, benefit and flow of this task. And that’s exactly the problem. Jane, though perhaps more likely to work her way through the screen with some success, has better things to do than struggle with it. She may have more technological experience, but she’s in a hurry. Besides, a poorly designed screen can make Jane feel as much of a moron as John feels. Her experience means nothing against a screen that wholly fails to explain itself.

John is less likely to recognize design patterns or to be able to parlay his previous experiences to this one. Jane is more likely to recognize patterns, but only if they’re used in ways she’s familiar with or can quickly adapt to (although weak designs are weak usually because established design patterns have been misused). John’s lack of confidence pitted against a tough design might kill his desire to ever work with it again. And Jane, despite being ready and willing to fight through it, will not be any more loyal after the battle.

In short, Jane is just as likely as John to walk away from this screen frustrated. And no line of instruction will compensate for a bad design.

Frustration Is Frustration Link

Despite hearing it all the time from designers and executives alike, the notion that tech-savvy users will be more amenable to difficult interfaces is, in a word, crazy. Yes, some users, when asked, would prioritize user control over ease of use (and vice versa: unconfident users would prioritize ease of use over control), but does this mean that the tech-addicted among us will more readily understand an unclear message, tolerate a poor task flow, or swear by a product that they themselves have trouble using? Heck no. Complexity can be managed, control can be beneficial, but frustration is never a good business strategy.

It doesn’t matter how savvy your users are, better design benefits everyone. Having a proficient audience is no excuse to slack off. You’re still designing for human beings, and human beings, one and all, have better things to do than try to make sense of a weak design.

You’re A Jane Link

If you’re reading this, odds are that you’re a Jane. You are a tech-savvy, confident user who jams those buttons down like there’s no tomorrow, fearlessly marching your way through whatever task stands in your way. When was the last time you had the time and willingness to put up with a poor interface from a company that thought it could get away with it because you’re an experienced user? When was the last time you liked it? When was the last time you recommended an app with such a design?

The next time you’re designing for John, remember that you’re also designing for the Janes of the world, too. Their to-do lists will be the better for it.


Footnotes Link

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6

↑ Back to top Tweet itShare on Facebook

Robert Hoekman Jr is the author of Designing the Obvious, Designing the Moment, Web Anatomy, Big Deal, and The Tao of User Experience. He has worked with Adobe, MySpace, Dodge, Craftsman, American Heart Association, Seth Godin,, and many others, and has spoken at industry events worldwide.

  1. 1

    We’ve actually put this sentiment into practice where I work. We have three disparate groups of users at varying degrees of comfort with computers. At the bottom we have ~$7.00 data entry techs with limited education and quite possibly even being offshore resources. Then we have ~$11.00 techs with a little more training and education but still fairly low education wise with a very high turn over. Then we have $115k a year PhD’s with 15-20 years experience. We designed a unifying interface that simplified each group’s tasks into a simple straight forward flow. In doing so we greatly increased the speed of what they did as well as reduced errors and cut training and time to proficiency.

    I think there’s a myth that more experienced users can benefit from more complex interfaces. I think that myth is perpetrated by the user and the designer equally. In reality many of the complex things that people do in these “super-user” interfaces are edge conditions or even more often tasks that can be easily automated and sometimes even outright eliminated.

    A good example is where our business partners demanded that we have a text field on a screen so that they could enter codes which would be placed on the back-end and trigger different automated activities, such as cancelling an order. The designer and the business were adamant about the size, placement, and flexibility of that field. After it was implemented we reviewed what was being entered into the field and the reality became clear that all that work was wasted work. Users were only using the field to cancel orders by entering the same three digit code every time they wanted to cancel the order (e.g. 000). It wasn’t a special code. It wasn’t encrypted. It wasn’t a password, just a simple code.

    The worst part is that the place where the field was placed was not on the order screen. Had the designer reviewed the use case and done some investigation they would have come to the conclusion that a “cancel order” button on the order page would have been sufficient and worked for simple and expert users alike.

  2. 2

    Well-written article. I do my UX like I do my cross-browser compatibility.

    Design for the best / savviest initially, and then work your way down.

    Design for Chrome / Firefox -> then transcend to other browsers for compatibility.

    UX -> Design for optimum usability -> work your way down to the least tech-savy users.

    • 3

      While that sounds great, I can imagine that the majority of the people visiting the site barely knows the difference between Chrome and JavaScript. Paying the least amount of attention to them while focussing on the wrong percentage of your audience might not be the smartest approach. You can always work to a logical interface that invites discovery for those who need it, while not insulting “the best”.

      Stop designing for yourself, as in “this is how I want it, this is logical to me”, but design for those who need discovery.

      • 4

        agree. look at this very page for example
        9 different menus scattered all over for various things.(from nav to twitter n popular)
        Makes sense to people who know where everything is , but everyone else ?
        Like facebook. Wtf is that mental layout ? Ever seen a first time user on FB ?

        add. ( standard CONSISTENCY )
        The more “”Jane”” you are. The more annoying bad ui control is.
        “”Jane”” knows how it should / could be. “”John”” just deals with it.
        People who use Flash IDE , then , use photoshop for the first time. visa versa…
        “”where is that?””, “”why doesn’t this work?”” , “”enable this , to just ,do that ?”” , “”this should work like this , it doesn’t ?””

        Standard consistency is a must , to not frustrate people..,
        ? toN rO ( backwards ¬ )

    • 5

      Boo to your technique. Progressive enhancement > graceful degradation.

  3. 6

    Isn’t there one of those Laws that states that the closer a person is to the development of a project/app the less objectively they can see it and the more subjectively they see it. (If one doesn’t exist, we’ll call it Martone’s Law!)

    This is why user testing is always so important. You never know how a John will use your app, but you can pretty much tell a Jane will figure it out in no time.

    Through face to face time with users, I’ve found their number one fear with new apps is a fear of breaking something, losing data and just not understanding the processing flow.

  4. 7

    While I can appreciate this article, it makes a lot of assumptions that may or may not be accurate. First, your assumption while eavesdropping on your buddy is that the usability design was bad.. bad enough that it required instructions for the uninitiated.

    I don’t know what the app was (I’m assuming it’s an application and not a brochure-style website) or what the design looked like – only that, in terms of technology experience, it appears a broad demographic may be using it at some point. The truth is, and I’m sure you know this, there is an economy to design – especially interface design. For each added or subtracted button or label, there is a benefit/cost in terms of complexity, intuitiveness and visceral attractiveness.

    That said, a good designer will understand his/her core demographic and prioritize their design accordingly. You assume an instruction set is an invalid solution to a design problem. Quite the contrary, instructions are just that – a solution to a design problem. Instructions may or may not be a valid solution to a given problem but that doesn’t mean they’re not a solution at all… ever.

    Put it another way, lets say this application your friend was designing was designed for a savvy user. The app in question will be form-based and used mostly by internal employees of a company who are already intimately familiar with similar applications and their multitude of fields. They require little or no hand holding along the way. The design is made so the entire form can be filled out on one page and in one pass before submitting the form to the server for processing. It for a financial healthcare investment company that has to comply with both SEC and HIPAA regulations so… understandably.. there are a lot of fields and calculations along the way.

    However, the designer in question was just informed that about 1% of users will be fresh college graduates unfamiliar with this type of application. The priority is to process the forms as quickly as possible, though. So, what to do? Does one, maybe, break up the form into (hopefully) logical steps.. maybe adding additional screens? Maybe an “expert” mode is a solution? How much additional time/money will these solutions cost vs. simply adding tooltip instructions next to each field?

    In an ideal world, we would be able to make everyone happy. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. I think your article misses that point and to call a particular design solution “wrong every time” ignores the basic tenet that design is largely subjective. In either case, you weren’t listening in on the other end of the phone call – or, at least, you didn’t present the other side here – and, without that information it’s hard to know if what you suggest is valid.

    David Kaplan

    • 8

      This article meant nothing to me…why would you design for the most savvy user?

      I am a web designer and not everything is intuitive to me, so I err on the side of making things extra clear—how can helping John understand and simultaneously getting Jane out the door faster be a bad thing?

      Maybe you are too savvy to understand that not everyone is on your level? My experience is that the younger the user, the more intuitive their approach to using anything electronic. People who grew up with the internet just “know” how things work. Those that had the internet introduced to them in adulthood may find it intimidating. I vote for making things too clear, rather than unclear—why frustrate half your users?

      I really didn’t get the point of this article; this stance only encourages excluding half your users by expecting them to have fuzzy logic. It’s like saying, “hey everyone, why don’t we NOT explain things so half our users will be more frustrated!” Not cool. Not good design logic.

      • 9

        What are your tguhhots on applian technolgies program called freecorder, here is a youtube video explaining it’s use:

      • 10

        Adam Malamis

        August 8, 2013 8:13 am

        In my experience younger does not necessarily equal more savvy. In fact, you’re judging by one facet of a multi-faceted audience.

        Knowing one’s audience, budgeting (even a shoestring!) for user testing and potentially stakeholder interviews are key in understanding the difference between what you *think* the user finds clear and what, after testing, is *shown* to be clear.

        I think the article misses an opportunity to contrast learned vs. intuitive processes. Not all apps or websites are “intuitive”, some are learned processes (think Google Adwords, Freshbooks, etc.). How a particular persona responds to a learned vs. intuitive process is what we’re trying to understand and account for most of the time.

    • 11

      Hi, I like where your article goes, what it touches on. From the comments obviously some people missed the point. But your article does direct me to want to know more about Miskeeto and your books – good stuff.

      I also consider myself both a professional an enthusiast in this area – both GUI design, UX and development. I started all as a hobby 30 years ago and still doing it now.

      At our own blog we also often (but in a scarcastic way) cover similar topics, mainly because myself and my business partner love to innovate in this field and do what very few others seem to be doing – that is creating powerful Web Apps that rival Desk Top ones. If you do have a little time to visit our blog too, appreciated, in particular check our UX posting and of course you’ll see examples of our RapidOS Web App framework that does some pretty cool (but obvious) things – why many UX people are going back to 80s designs for 20XX software is beyond us.


  5. 12

    Niels Matthijs

    December 28, 2011 7:34 am

    The last time I used (and recommended) a subpar interface was when the service had to offer me something unique. I understand most (ux) designers are working for services that need to compete on similar functionality grounds as a trillion other companies, but I really don’t care if I need to wade through screens of hard to understand interface mumbo jumbo as long as something comes out at the other end that’s worth more than what the competition has on offer.

    It’s probably a different argument altogether, but still worth noting I think :)

  6. 13

    I think the gist of your article is this: Good interface design works for John’s and Jane’s alike. But I think it’s an illusion that there is the one perfect UI design that works for both without being limited in any way. For exmaple: An interface easily usable by John is often dumbed down and does not offer options Jane desires. Also: The typical Jane has a lot of experience with other interfaces and therefore is able to operate similar interfaces a lot faster (even though the interface itself is not as intuitive – especially not for John). Ribbons would be a good example of this behaviour. Most Janes will hate em, most Johns will have no problems with them whatsoever. And also: Trying to create one interface that is as easy to use for both without limiting them in their options is a lot more cost intensive than to analyze your main target group and develop for them.

  7. 14

    Familiarity with the subject matter breeds confidence in its use and comprehension in its methods.

    It’s like the difference between a Caveman discovering fire and giving a pyromaniac a lighter.

  8. 15

    I enjoyed this article, and I agree with commenter Aaron Martone on the importance of user testing to combat the problem of designing for the savvy and not-so-much. Both the Janes and the Johns don’t want to have their confidence questioned as they navigate an app or site. Testing for cracks in user confidence could help make for less frustrating pages. When we start to question whether we know what we’re doing ( as users), that’s when the frustration creeps in.
    -Sarah Bauer
    Navigator Multimedia

  9. 16

    If you go by the premise of the article, you will likely to conclude that there is no such thing savvy user. I disagree with the premise made in the article.

    To me the difference between savvy and non-savvy is in the familiarity. A windows 7 user will likely figure out OSX faster than a Windows 3.1 user. Because the interfaces are more familiar and are loaded with similar techy experiences. However there are exception to this, which is what this article is illustrating, because if there is a whack-job developer who set out to create an egg muffin but cooked you an omelet, yes, even a savvy user would have a hard time figuring it out.

    Having said that, a person who uses internet on a daily basis (usually a younger person), is more likely to figure out the logic behind new interfaces because the interfaces are not innovated in leaps and bounds, they usually change incrementally. For instance, when a savvy user sees a menu he knows which menu link contains a drop down menu and which does not by sheer look at the menu buttons. Thats all.

    • 17

      The point of the article isn’t to drive a rod between these two personas. It’s to understand that even a savvy user wants to get things done quickly. So pandering to some hypothetical “super user” is foolish.

      Design primarily for ease of use and even a ‘power’ user can get things done more efficiently.

  10. 18

    Steven Davelaar

    December 28, 2011 11:32 am

    Nice article. You can even argue that a bad design is even worse for jane than for john. The more tech savvy you are, the more you will recognize the bad design, the higher the frustration, at least that’s how it works for me. John might just think he is “too stupid with computers” to use the badly designed screen.

  11. 19

    As I sat in my local co-working space, shoulder-deep in a design problem on my MacBook Air…..(fanboy much?)

    • 20

      cancel blbbue October 5th, 20108:59 amAwesome comment – would love to see you do a follow-up post in much more detail here on SM.

  12. 21

    Never cry wolf…

    Not related to the article, just a note for the “Editor”. That “Editor’s Note” has gotten to the point that it’s reflex for me to skip over it. I know it’s just an advertisement, so now if a real Editor’s Note was to be added to something (which would normally be something important, right?) I’ll just ignore it like I do the advertisement which has gone from irritating to invisible.

    Hey! How about that for a user interface study. Forget studying whether users are stupid and need instructions embedded in an internet app, let’s do a study on whether Smashing Magazine readers are stupid enough to think an Editor’s note that’s really just a [not-so] cleverly disguised advertisement actually works.

    In my humble opinion, it’s going to be totally ineffective. For users that aren’t idiots, they will pause when they see the note, being attracted to it out of habit over the years from reading publications of all sorts. Editor’s notes are changes an editor felt was so terribly important it required interruption of the author’s work to interject. So after pausing to read the important note, what is the user’s typical reaction?

    “Wow! I was totally absorbed with enthusiasm for this fake edit, which is actually an advertisement. It MUST be a great book, so I’ll buy it!”

    Perhaps the user might, instead, feel his intelligence is insulted by the poor use of an editorial standard as advertising instead. And the more this same user visits, and has his eye drawn to the counterfeit page element, the more insulted he feels – not only does this “Editor” think it will work, this editor thinks continued use of this technique will eventually draw this reader to become a customer.

    And what does this say, of the actual content for the publication, when the user becomes accustomed to the idea that the brand’s image is that of suspect information? If the editor’s image becomes one of “cannot be trusted”, would one expect that those under the editor’s dominion should be?

    Ironically, this faux-study has brought to mind a previous article on this very publication, quite some time ago. The article was a condemnation of web designers that use the !important declaration in their CSS, and gave a laundry list of reasons why it was faulty. Examination of both the author’s own site, and found that both made extensive use of !important in their own stylesheets. Credibility goes a long way when you’re selling yourself as an authority in an industry.

    Addressing the article, this reminds me of a recent experience with a sign up page for one of Real Network’s sub products. The author either forgot to include labels for the sign up form, or they had some scripting method that failed miserably in Google Chrome. Whichever the case, I tried guessing my way through it. Almost 30 years as a program has hoisted me into the somewhat savvy category when it comes to computers. I got a good way through it, but was unable to figure out what all the inputs were for, and Real lost a potential customer.

    It doesn’t matter how savvy your users are, or how ignorant. There will be time when a little help will do wonders for saving your company (or client’s company) from losing a customer, and by extension, money. 5 seconds of reading help can help Jane and John get through their task and on with their day a lot faster than 20 seconds of trying to guess what the app requires of them.

  13. 23

    The problem is that almost every client is a John (although most would believe they are Jane’s!). Tech company manager at every level have tech company employees who set up their computers to the level they the manager is logged in and personalized when they power up their device. They never install their own apps or software, and they never try anything for more than a few seconds before calling in their favourite techie to do it for them, or tell them the answer.

    As we dumb down interfaces, we ensure more customers can access our app, but lower the overall level of technology knowledge in the world. While at the same time, technology gets more and more complex, and client’s requirements soar to ridiculous levels. I keep hearing “it must just know what I want to do (preferably without me needing to know what I want to do)”, and “why can’t we have 1-click purchasing like Amazon”, or “Why isn’t this as easy as Google”. Every UX designer/developer is competing with the world’s top tech companies – except on a fraction of the budget.

    If you really need to understand the “average user”, go explain your latest app or website to your mom (or grandad if you are under 25) – it will bring you right down to earth in a hurry!

    • 24

      It’s a difficult job, that’s why it’s a valuable service. This is a good thing.

  14. 25

    Joram Oudenaarde

    December 29, 2011 2:02 am

    I also believe that both savvy and non-savvy users can (and usually will) become irritated with badly designed/unintuitive websites. But I think the savvy users will become irritated less fast because they’re a lot more prone to “just start using it”. They’re usually the type of user that has a higer patience level (because they’ll just start using it and figure things out with less hickups).

    On the flip side though, I do feel that that shouldn’t be a reason to give yourself a wild card when designing a website that could/will be visited primarily by savvy users. Intuitivity/user friendlyness should always be in the top-3 of your list, except maybe if it’s your personal site/playground :)

  15. 26

    Thanks for an interesting read.

  16. 27

    I think it’s important to remember how well people cope with difficult situations. Users are a lot savvier than you think.

    We should strive to make things pleasurable and easy to use, but far too many designers think that users are idiots when the reality is quite the opposite. I’d argue that as part of this lesson this should be highlighted, lest we end up with another generation of designers that think users need constant hand holding.

  17. 28

    Joakim Hedlund (@Sleavely)

    December 29, 2011 3:56 am

    Ever used Photoshop? ;-)

  18. 29

    The other tip that’s hard to remember is that the Jane’s of the world will often be the ones that send you feature/use case/etc suggestions. John might not figure out how or take the time to do so.

    The problem with this is that Jane’s suggestions will often complicate things for John. Because, paradoxically, although they have the same goals… they see the path to getting there differently. :) You have to work harder to reach John. trying to keep the focus on making something simpler while still delighting everyone.

  19. 30

    I’m a Jane but a poorly designed interface doesn’t necessarily makes me leave a website. If I am confident that the website has what I want (quality information on a blog, good products on an online store) I can get by interface problems.
    Remember that one of the most read book on usability is “Don’t make me think”. This means that people that design good interfaces do this so that even monkeys could use the website. By not giving up so easy on a bad interface it’s a way of saying “I am more than a monkey”. It’s lame that I need this kind of reinforcement, ha? :)

    • 31

      If it was only the one interface that you have to use every day, then yes, I would agree that bad design that forces you to think is not a problem. You may even be proud that through experience you mastered the damn thing like noone else, and that you’re not a monkey.

      But in today’s reality we face tons of interfaces every day (they also change all the time). Even if every interface was simple and easy to use, life is still going to be difficult because there’s just so many of ’em. Good design is very important in order not to frustrate customers, because you have to realize that you are taking valuable time out of people’s lives. Most people have Jane’s super-long todo list, and thus have little patience for bad design.

  20. 32

    Deborah Palmer McCain

    December 29, 2011 9:15 am

    I will admit that as I scrolled happily through Smashing Magazine, the title display of this article was the first enchanting moment I had. There are those of us who are, for lack of a better term, ancient in age, but nevertheless spend many hours in front of a screen. As I detest the telephone, and always have, I don’t get worked up about apps or the latest phone. I still carry a very ancient cell phone. It took me a several years to discover there was a camera (when a shot of my shoes appeared). I am connected only to my desktop PC…when I leave my desk…I leave technology, but when I am here (at ever increasing hours), the sites I visit better sing, or I am gone. I don’t mind thinking, but purchasing an item shouldn’t take longer than finding it.

    Anyway, while learning C# and HTML5, I find I am still drawn into the land of UI and UX, and while some wade through cumbersome sites hoping that the experience is worth the trip, I don’t have that kind of time, so alas, I put up with Amazon and their “recommendations for me” (yes, I know I can turn it off, but you never know)…in order to find a book. There is so much going on…but I know what I am doing and where I need to be, so I ignore all of the side “chatter” on the site.

    I am in a constant battle with my mentor, as I complain about the Microsoft HR career search pages (gad…what a nightmare to navigate), while my mentor defends MS (and chastises me for having the cheek to be critical) because they “conduct extensive research in UI and the psychology of users”, anyone who has ever waded through their HR pages probably leaves with a sense that an escape from an abyss has just been accomplished. But I’m still mad MS killed Clippy. And I wish they would do something with their Partners in Education site. Gad…. ok…rant ended.

    Dianne posted about explaining something to a mom or grandad…hmmm… I have spent a great deal of time explaining simple Word functions to youngsters who tweeted their way through their classes (and work), but couldn’t send a professionally written email without a guidebook, or attach a document without a 1 to 1 tutorial. Cripes. Don’t get me started on spelling…. There really isn’t an average user; maybe no true Janes or Johns…situational users? Now there’s a term. I spent time the other day explaining the partridge in a pear tree that was depicted on a holiday card. The salesclerk didn’t have a clue as to why a bird was sitting in a fruit tree, but she certainly knew her printer ink…

    Then there are folks my age or older, who have excuses for not learning to navigate the Internet. My late mother did all of my father’s typing, etc, so it was a real shock when I told him, “no…I will show you where to find your information and typing tutorials, and teach you how to check your email, but I will not do it for you.” He’s fine..and has folders for all of his mail…and he’s 83. Listening to his hunt and peck on the keyboard is sometimes irritating…but better than playing secretary. So when someone my age says, “I can’t, I’m too old to learn”…I have no sympathy. They simply want “people”. “Can”t you just do this for me?”…doesn’t work with me. I’ll show you….take notes.

    I am off to click through and buy the Smashing 1 and 2 bundle. If I can get past the cute, precious, irritating art…but… the more I stare at the cat at the bottom of this page, the more I like him…mission accomplished Smashing folks…more time on the page. But he’s still not Clippy. Could you possibly make his eyes blink? I would visit more often, and miss Clippy less.

  21. 33

    Thank you for the reminder! As Clayton Christianson explained at the opening session during the Business of Software Conference 2011, building successful software is about identifying the “job” that the user is trying to get done. I’ve seen a few apps, and designed a webpage or two back in the early days, that assumed that the user was just there to enjoy the experience.

  22. 34

    Instead of writing an article about it, why didn’t you chat with your co-worker? I would have appreciated the real help and insight. Also my name happens to be John and my client’s name happened to be Jane as well.

  23. 36

    Empathy for the client is the only option there is in the design world. The client will know their users the best, they will know their habits, their needs, and their desires.

    Easy answer is to forego thinking of what the end user will need and focus on understanding the client. It’s their life, their business and their lively hood. If they are worth their weight, they will give you all the info you need to make the proper decision without hesitation.

  24. 37

    Great article! Good design takes usability into account….Apple got it and look how functional and beautiful their design is.

  25. 38

    I think the most frustrating thing are sites which DON’T TELL ONE WHAT THEY’RE ABOUT or what benefit one might have by using their offerings (be it an app, a service, a complete software, some code)… This might be o.k. with such popular applications like Facebook – but is a total fail for the ‘little’ unknown guys.

  26. 39

    I think David Kaplan above made some very good points in his comments on this article. The initial overheard comment was “Well, these aren’t going to be very savvy users, so we should probably put some instructions there.” That doesn’t necessarily imply a poor interface.

    For example I have designed several sites for the NHS – some Intranet and some public facing. Some of these sites shared common forms, pages and templates – however we didn’t include, for obvious reasons, the same instructions and information for health professionals as we did for the general public. Knowing your user and context is important.

  27. 40

    I like your point that everyone wants to get off the screen, “and fast”. Too true for just about any work-related application. I feel like you’re right, but I’m still unclear on why instructions should never be included. Perhaps someone could provide a link to some ‘before’ and ‘after’ examples that demonstrate a better solution than clunky instructions?

  28. 41

    I absolutely believe in good design, but there will always be parts of an application that cannot be perfectly intuitive, especially as an application gets more and more complex. Providing in-context help there is a good idea in my opinion. Even for parts where you might think it’s intuitive to everyone, it probably isn’t – so I think even adding a little helpful description to the no-brainer section is a good idea (as long as the description doesn’t disrupt the design, e.g. by using tooltips and the likes).

  29. 42

    john surdakowski

    January 3, 2012 8:50 am

    I think some of you are missing the point of this article. Robert is not saying to design for either of these types of users. Not paying more attention to one over the other. But to design for them both, because their objectives are the same.

    Whether the user is tech savvy or not, we must design web sites and applications with an intuitive interface. Without having to supply “backup” instructions. Because it will not help either of the users. But an already intuitive design solves the problem for both users.

  30. 43

    Nice work.Great article.Keep woking good enough.

  31. 44

    (I think it’s your notion of “usage…” not “user…” that I often quote so I’m always interested in your perspective.) Can you walk us through a more complete example that supports your case? I think the critical phrase in your entire statement is “…recognize design patterns…” We must constantly make judgment calls about the level of recognizability of the design patterns we lean on. And isn’t the challenge when we are designing for novel functionality where there is little pattern basis? When I watch people struggle (that is, not recognize the many often-hidden patterns) with the otherwise lauded and genuinely laudable iPad, I guess my conclusion is that it’s all one big John-Jane Yin-Yang… more so than Jane being mythical.

  32. 45

    As a manager of a site whose audience is largely over 55, I’m always looking at ways to make the UX as obvious as possible. At the same time, I’ve been known to mock our “un-savvy users,” so this article struck home. It’s good to be reminded that users just want to move on to the next screen, regardless of their age or technical understanding. A designer can easily forget that good design is design that is understood (and set aside) quickly. Period.

  33. 46

    I’m sure the real secret behind improving user experience is to get other people to test it… all different kinds of people. The more you get it tested, the better it will be to allow users to be less frustrated with it. This applies to all different kinds of things from products to apps to websites and much more. Enough said.

  34. 47

    You can’t divide people strictly into two categories. Good, organized, simple, intuitive design should work for everyone. If you look at intuitive design as “dumbing down” — you’re really just making the assumption that you’re smarter than your user. Stop making judgments against people and just focus on making things simple and organized, with important parts emphasized and an option to discover more complicated detail easily at hand. Whether someone seems more “sophisticated” or not, good design is good design, and if we judge people by how many apps they DON’T have on their phone and treat them like idiots, or assume that those who own ten different gadgets can figure something out in a split second, we’re missing the point of what good design is and can do.

  35. 48

    This post pretty much sums up why I don’t use Google+. I’ve never had problems with any social media-interface in my life except that one even though I’m a digital native and a graphic designer. I don’t understand it.

  36. 49

    A very well written article. Down to the point. Poor design is poor design no matter who the audiences are.

    • 50

      Clinton Mercieca November 10th, 2011 1:54 am I think ualsibity on the web is most of the time put aside, if not ignored completely. It’s about time we start taking a better look at this aspect of web development and this article is a good way to start. Awesome work, keep it up =)

  37. 51

    Nice article, but is it really that relevant, that you are using MacBook air? Please stop giving them free publicity in every article, unless you are sponsored?

  38. 52

    If I were to summarize the article in one sentence, I would say ‘Design so that is it easy, but has a simple flow so that experienced users can navigate through it quickly’.

    That is how I took the article, after reading the comments it seems that a lot of others took it as ‘Design for Jane, who cares about John.’.

    Either way, nice article. I do think that it was written to be taken the way that I took it. Designing more along the lines of making it easy so that inexperienced users can complete their tasks with minimal frustration, while experienced users can navigate through quickly and be on with their day. Designing like this as opposed to designing so that experienced users can complete their tasks quickly and just put instructions here and there for inexperienced users (this also clutters the design for the experienced).

  39. 53

    There is a big need for UX in tech, and it’s still growing. It’s growing because the tech world isn’t what it was five years ago — there are now millions and millions of apps, websites, products, games, etc. all with their own interface that users have to learn. We are constantly learning new interfaces and new means of interacting with technology, as users. Since we’re fortunate enough to be here at the dawn of the birth of this new world, we get to witness the rough transition first-hand; maybe UX designers will go down in history as the great liaisonists of the 21st century.

    My purpose for this post was to say that the emphasis on UX is more related to market needs rather than increasingly sophisticated users. It’s the tech that’s changed (and thus, the job market).

    Side note: More color theory should make it into UX — not enough is said about how certain blues can make male users feel productive, or how looking at highlights of orange and yellow give you energy (and actually can increase your metabolic rate). We tend to focus on only the visual user experience (VUX) — did I just coin that?


↑ Back to top