Three Lessons to Learn Regarding Computer Savvy (or Not) Users

There are such a variety of users being served out there, people who need to get work done regardless of their computer skills, that it’s possible that those of us providing applications are expecting too much from them.

Of course, I’ve thought about this, before. However, last night I was at a WordPress meeting, we were talking about our users, and this very topic came up.

Lesson #1: Get a Mindset That Helps Your Users Work
Specifically, it began because one person talked about working for a university’s IT department for the Art school. Some art professors might be fairly computer-savvy but others aren’t. Their focus is to be creative people not to learn computers, necessarily. To be professors or students, you actually do have to know or learn at least a little about computers. But it’s not the focus of what you’re trying to do. His goal was to make everything they needed to do as easy and accessible as possible, not to make them better computer users.

Lesson #2: Listen Not Only to What Users Say But Watch What They Do
Another person has a software development business and sometimes asks users point-blank how the software is working for them. One particular piece of software had to do with a specific job for a skilled building profession. In asking a person who actually did that skilled work, the person insisted the software was easy to use but then, in showing what he knew, was obviously going to a lot of screens. The person possibly didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings in saying the software was really hard to use or possibly didn’t want to seem like the only person who thought that.

Lesson #3: Even in Science, Everyone is Not a Computer Scientist
As I work with users, even in science there are a variety of people and a variety of tasks to do. Those of us who design the processes in the systems do our best and we know we’ve created something much simpler than what could have been the outcome. That doesn’t mean the users will find them easy to use. Some of the processes we create are still just too complicated for users to have to work with.

More Thoughts
Everywhere I go, I think about the ways we implement our applications. As a user, myself, I sometimes feel frustrated at the applications given to me. As a person walking through our local health system, I notice how doctors and other health care professionals have their frustrations with systems that are now meant more to track everything that happens than to help those people give more personal care (which they seem to really want to do), and I see impressive-looking check-in kiosks in places where, even if there’s a line, it’s still easier to walk up to the check-in desk and announce yourself than to type your name and click a bunch of boxes on the kiosk.

This isn’t meant as a criticism to those of us who do this kind of work. It’s just this reminder – those of us doing the work see the improvements. We know how much worse things could be if we weren’t so good at our jobs. Our users just see the end result. If they don’t seem grateful to us it’s because they aren’t seeing our struggles to get them what they have and, by the way, maybe they shouldn’t have to know what we go through.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

2 responses on “Three Lessons to Learn Regarding Computer Savvy (or Not) Users

  1. Thanks for this post, Gloria.
    From my experience in scientific data analysis and management through software, I mainly see two generic poles in businesses. There are the ones that see the human factor as a burden and they keep fighting against it. This impacts science and makes businesses apply premature knowledge. There are the ones that see the human factor as a benefit, and they are able to add value to science and to increase quality of life. Cheers!

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