Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Stupid users!

I'm very sympathetic to people who complain, rightly, when a piece of technology (software or hardware) is difficult to use, and/or the documentation does not do a good job of explaining how to use it properly.

However, I have very little sympathy for users who get stuck, or make a mess, because they haven't bothered to look, listen or learn.

Last year, I dealt with a case of this so acute that it passed beyond frustrating and actually became funny. I had written a little DOS script (I know - how last millennium!) to do a lot of tedious work for the users rather than obliging them to do it all. The script relied on a number of steps, and attempted to elicit information from the users at least once in the process. If the user hit return before actually providing the information, the process abended. Unfortunately, the limitations of the environment meant that I couldn't loop them back and say "Oi! You were meant to type something there!"

To get around this, I made sure that the script put up information clearly explaining what was going to happen, and explicitly telling people that they should read each screen as they worked through the script. They shouldn't just hit "Any Key" without thinking. I pointed out to the users that the script did this, and emphasised that they really ought to read everything on the screen before proceeding, since this was a process they hadn't performed before. They all nodded and agreed. Then proceeded to ignore the warning, ignore the information on the screen, rush through the process, and waste their own time by stuffing it up. This was whilst I was sitting in front of them, immediately after I had told them to read everything and they had said they would!

The second and third groups faired no better, despite the fact that, having stressed the importance of reading everything on the screen before proceeding, I then went on to mock their colleagues, who had done exactly what I told them not to do. The second and third groups laughed at their colleagues stupidity - then went on to do exactly the same things themselves!

It beggared belief.

I was going to explain how this is similar to the situation I find myself in now, but as I started typing it, I realised that the process is much more complex, and explaining just how the users are getting it wrong - beyond the simple and obvious fact that they clearly haven't read my beautifully crafted, crystal clear instructions - would be even more tedious to read than it would be to write.

Let me short-cut that mutually unpleasant process by just writing: "Users? Thick eejits, more like."

Thank you all (or few - that might be more accurate) for bearing with me over the last few weeks. I've been really, really, really busy. And travelling a lot. Normal service will resume soon, I think.


Al said...

A bad programmer always blames his users ;-)

Perhaps it's just that your interface wasn't good enough?

Tickersoid said...

This says something about the nature of man and the way he performs tasks.

First Nations said...

i miss dos.
windows is distracting.