You’re not the average user

September 16th, 2012

There’s one thing you can know for sure, if you’re reading my blog, you are definitely not an average Internet user. Why? Because if you know anything at all about web design or development, you know more than the average user. And this is something I think most designers and developers forget. We need to remember when we make a site or an app that there are conventions that we take for granted that the average user has never heard of. Think about this, I know people that work with computers daily and didn’t know you could copy and paste using ctrl+c and ctrl+v because they’ve never had to use it.

It’s not that the average user is stupid, it’s just that to them the Internet is like their TV, they just expect to turn on the web and go to the sites they like. I have no idea how my TV works, I just turn it on and pick the channel. I’m vaguely aware about all the work that goes into creating a TV show, but if you wanted me to make one, I’d have no idea where to start. Of course, building most websites aren’t as complicated as making a TV show, maybe a site like Amazon is close, but I think the analogy works. So my point is, imagine if you had to have knowledge of the TV world in order to understand a TV show. It might be popular with some TV people but it would completely flop with the majority of viewers.

I see tweets from people that code or design on their MacBook, surf the web on their iPad and play games on their iPhone. Some of them are in a bubble where the idea that some people haven’t used any of those devices doesn’t even occur to them. This leads them to make the mistake that everyone is familiar with Apple design conventions. And the same goes for people that only use Microsoft products. We need to remember that there are people out there that have never even used a smartphone, so if you build a site that mimics smartphone apps, don’t assume everyone is going to automatically know how to use it.

We need to remember not everyone uses Webkit. If you make demo that only works in Webkit, that’s not a problem, but when I see sites that only work in Chome even though a couple of extra lines of CSS would make it work in Firefox and Opera, it scares me. Even Google does this on some of their sites. Webkit and Chrome are cool right now but people forget that Internet Explorer 6 was cool and look what happened there. I don’t think there’s a problem with sites that have extra effects in certain browsers but always make sure the site is still functional in other browsers.

Whatever you’re making, you need to remember that unless it’s a tool you’re building for other developers and only other developers, most of the people using it aren’t going to know things you know. I’m always telling the designers I work with, if a visitor to a site can’t figure out what they want in ten seconds, they’re going to push the back button and go somewhere else. If the search input is the most important thing on your site, then don’t hide it in a corner because you think it’s ugly, put it in the middle and build the rest of the site around it. Put the navigation in the normal places, sure it might be boring now but the user will always know where to look. These things are obvious really, but sometimes we forget because we’re in a world where we work with them everyday.

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