Users are the Best, People are the Worst
As a UX professional, it’s my job to empathize with users. For me, this means starting from the premise that users are good, reasonable people. Maybe they don’t read the text and hate it when I make them think, but as a whole, I try to assume the best when it comes to their intentions and motivations.
As such, I get cranky when I encounter things that I consider “defensive designing”: elements built to deter and protect against users who want to game the system, take advantage of loopholes, or behave like jerks. I was even moved to tweet about it last October:
Then, November happened. And, like anyone who spends too much time on social media, I’ve since wondered if there are way more awful people (or regular people behaving awfully) in the world than I’d thought.
Tackling Trolls of All Sizes
This feeling that everyone is terrible is not uncommon. According to a recent survey, three quarters of Americans believe incivility has risen to crisis levels. And there’s no better place to find evidence of this than in online discussions, whether it’s on Twitter or in the dreaded comments section. Facebook, Google, and other internet giants are looking to AI to combat online harassment, automate content moderation, and filter out the worst abuses.
However, these efforts probably won’t address low-level, everyday bad user behavior: the knee-jerk reactions, ignorant comments, insults, and thoughtless remarks. The start-up Civil tries to tame this part of online discussion by forcing users to be reflective. Before someone can post their comment, they have to rate two other real user comments for quality and civility, and then review and rate their own comment. This design seems to violate normal UX thinking—it makes the user go through three challenging steps instead of one easy button click to complete their task! However, these obstacles make the user slow down and consider the relationship of words to a larger community of people.
This example raises some interesting questions for those of us who create experiences in non-profit contexts. Seamless pathways, one-click actions, and super-easy interfaces are the gold standard in commercial interface designs. But are they always the right choice in fields that aren’t about optimizing conversion funnels? Is “as quick and easy as possible” the best design solution when it comes to educating, inspiring, or building community?
I sometimes think we’re too afraid to introduce some friction into the experiences we design. In the library world, I often come across the idea that we need to make the process of doing scholarly research as easy as a Google search, or else we’re going to lose our users. But research is hard, and in the process of struggling, people solve problems, hone judgment, and learn a variety of skills along the way.
There are other benefits in slowing down and thinking hard. The podcast Invisiblia recently explored how we can control our implicit biases by taking the time to apply deliberate thought processes. The psychologist Daniel Kahneman has shown that engaging our slower, more effortful modes of thinking can lead to better (though more tiring) decision making. And, as the writer Rebecca Solnit notes:
We gain awareness of ourselves and others from setbacks and difficulties; we get used to a world that is not always about us; and those who do not have to cope with that are brittle, weak, unable to endure contradiction, convinced of the necessity of always having one’s own way.
Let’s consider where we might use interface roadblocks to benefit the overall user community, even if they’re not the easiest or most delightful experiences. Can we think of friction as a useful tool instead of something to avoid at all costs? What are the design patterns that are good for creating citizens, not customers?
Adrienne will be presenting at the edUi 2017 public square, You’re the Worst: Content and design strategies for dealing with terrible users.
About the Author
Adrienne Lai is an award-winning librarian who has worked in archives, academic and public libraries for over seven years. At North Carolina State University, where she was a NCSU Libraries Fellow and Emerging Technologies Librarian, she established the first regular User Research program and led more than a dozen user studies over a two-year period.
Adrienne is currently the Assistant Manager for Websites and Online Engagement at the Vancouver Public Library, where she is leading a large website redesign project and collaborating on ways to incorporate user experience methods to improve library spaces and services beyond the website.