When it comes to basic web behaviors, there is no “us” and “them”


Behavior (Photo credit: Rickydavid)

Often when you read a book, article, or heuristic guidelines, the word “people” is used to refer the behaviors commonly observed. For example, you might read:

“People scan pages; they don’t read them.”

What’s odd about this statement? By saying “people”, you mean people other than yourself and immediate group. But studies show repeatedly that when it comes to many of this basic behaviors, we all do it. No matter how smart we are, no matter how educated we are on usability, we all make the same basic mistakes and all engage in the same behaviors. So how should this sentence read?

“We scan pages; we don’t read them.”

By using words like “we” and “us”, you are admitting that you and your immediate group are part of the behavior. This humility is the basis for empathy. Only if we see the flaws in ourselves can we account for them more broadly.

I’m not arguing against context. Context is important. You must observe your users, not just yourself, to know how to optimize the usability of your site. Everyone is a little different, and often our users have different goals, expectations, motivations, resources, and attitudes than we do.

But before saying things like “user error”, or how you think other people are {insert negative adjective}, remember that we are all just people, and we are all susceptible. Everyone is vulnerable and influenceable. We all try to optimize our cognitive load. It’s this quality that also makes us able to influence others.

Thoughts, comments? Let us know!