Jennifer Boriss, a Fire Fox developer, recently encountered 60 year old Joe, a cafeteria worker, stumbling around the mall food court "bored out of his mind". Boriss had originally traveled to the mall to conduct user tests on how people surf the web (interesting note: she mentions she finds malls an excellent place to find user test participants due to the variation in technical expertise). She ended up spending three hours with Joe, finding his unbiased, inexperienced and untouched impression of the Internet a source of valuable insight.
While she did focus primarily on browser usability, I loved how she found that Joe instantly attempted to use the "Help" menu as a guide for him to navigate the world wide web. There really is no guide book for using the web. Its hard to believe that perhaps we take for granted all the drop down menus, text boxes, and scroll bars we seemingly find so intuitive. While these inexperienced users are becoming more and more rare, Joe's experience serves as a good reminder of remembering to think about your users' context, skill level and basis of interaction.
A few of Boriss's discoveries:
- No matter the user skill level, users stick with what they know. In the case of new users: text. Simple and informative text is effective.
- Don't assume users will naturally investigate how software will work. Provide visual feedback and encouragement.
- Don't make too many assumptions on how user's will use your technology
We truly take for granted what we know as we become experienced technology users. We've become so accustomed to scroll bars and drop down menus. Now we have touch interfaces where we can scroll around with a finger touch and zoom in with a pinch. We are even becoming more familiar with motion sensing devices that allow us to swipe through the air and move around to interact with the virtual world. It would be very interesting to see Joe try out a smartphone, tablet, or the Microsoft Kinect.
With the growth of ubiquitous computing, its interesting to think of how we will interact with technology in the future and decide what is natural and ideal. I personally strive and hope to create and support technologies that will us to interact in such natural ways that provide us deeper interaction with the world around us. I think we will need to learn more about ways to mesh our expertise of perceiving physical affordances in the world with our expertise of navigating virtual world of software and the web.