Rule #22 – Your customers are morons.

Your customers are morons, and you should treat them as such.  Now, now…don’t fret.  I’m not hacking on your customers.  I’m actually hacking on your product.

It’s easy to think that because something in your product or application is intuitive to you that it will be intuitive to everyone else.  That is simply not true.  Chances are much greater that what seems simple to you will feel much more complicated to someone else.  And customers will not use, much less pay for, complicated products.

When it’s time to design and build the customer interaction process (a GUI, a set of knobs and buttons, etc.), I try to think back to 3rd grade when I sat in creative writing class and was asked to write how to make a sandwich.  “Put the peanut butter on the bread…”  The teacher would respond, “where did you get the peanut butter?  Where did you get the bread?  How will you get it on the bread?  Do you put the peanut butter jar on the bread, or does it need to be opened first?”  On and on and on until a group of 8 year olds had spent three months writing a 22 page essay about how to make a frigging sandwich.

You need to approach the interaction between your customers/users/clients and your products EXACTLY the same way.  Yes, some details and actions are intuitive.  For example, you probably don’t need an explanation of what “Search” means when there is a text field with a “Search” button next to it on a website.  However, if you purchase a new electric weedeater, the first step in the instructions is to plug it in.  The first point of the “Troubleshooting” is making sure you have it plugged in and the weedeater is getting power.  Wouldn’t the most intuitive thing about operating an electric weedeater be to plug it in?  Nonetheless, Black and Decker and all the other electric weedeater manufacturers continue to print in the instructions, “Step 1: Plug in your new weedeater.”

You can make your product as easy to use as possible, and invariably someone will not understand it.  People look at things differently.  They have different preconceptions and perspectives.  You will not be able to build a customer interaction experience that levels all of those preconceptions and perspectives.  Instead, build something that you think is simple to use and then implement ways to  (a) explain how to use the product from start to finish, such as a help guide or tutorial (b) explain why something might not be working the correct way in the event it isn’t working the correct way and (c) how to receive prompt customer support in the event that doesn’t solve the problem.

If you build a product that’s easy for you to use under the assumption that it will be easy for everyone else, then you are shooting yourself in the foot.  Get feedback from different people about the interaction between that person and the product.  Tweak it.  Write a complete help guide.  Set up a “Frequently Asked Question” section of your website and keep it updated.  Once you’ve built the interface, there is still plenty of work to do to describe how it works.  Don’t cut corners on that portion of the project.  Remember, you’re dealing with morons.

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