25th February 2002Jakob Nielsen has really done it now. Much as I approve of his less-is-more philosophy for web-site design, and while I agree that we should strive for simple and intuitive user interfaces, his latest column surely goes too far in pandering to, shall we say, ``unsophisticated'' users. (And yes, I am using that word as a polite synonym for ``stupid''):
Our own usability testing of intranets, for example, revealed serious problems when intranets had multiple searches: users often used the wrong search without knowing it. To the users' mind, search is search, and if they type something into a query field and hit return, they expect to find what they're looking for. They often don't realize that the same action can have different outcomes depending on subtle details, such as the difference between two search mechanisms.
Now don't get me wrong here, but these people shouldn't be allowed near computers, any more than someone who can't drive should be allowed behind the wheel of a car. The problem that Nielsen discusses here is exactly analogous to that suffered by a non-driver who spurns the idea of lessons, gets into a car for the first time and drives it down the road to the chemist.
Our own usability testing of cars, for example, revealed serious problems when cars had multiple pedals: users often used the wrong pedal without knowing it. To the users' mind, pedals are pedals, and if they push their foot down on one, they expect the car to react in the way they want. They often don't realize that the same action can have different outcomes depending on subtle details, such as the difference between the accelerator and brake pedals.
In situations like this, the solution is clear: get some better users. Or at least, teach the ones you have the most basic, elementary principles of How Stuff Works.
Simplicity good; over-simplification bad.
Finally, a parable.
A man and his wife were both sick, with different conditions. They went to the doctor, who swiftly, efficiently and accurately diagnosed their problems, and prescribed the appropriate remedies: blue pills for the man and red pills for his wife. They went away happy, and the man ate red pills for three days before dropping down dead. His wife went back to the doctor to complain, but the doctor fobbed her off with a lot of nonsense about her husband having taken the wrong pills.
``Don't give me that'', she replied. ``To patients' minds, pills are pills, and if they take some, they expect to get better. They often don't realize that the same action can have different outcomes depending on subtle details, such as what drugs the pills contain.''
At that instant, the doctor was enlightened.