Think user not creator should be an adage of the digital age

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2012 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

Too many creators of content only worry about how fast they can create the content rather than worrying about how easy the user will find it to absorb the content.

I came to this conclusion after being asked to complete an online survey. The survey was being run by a major public opinion company and was about my views on the facilities available to me to play my favourite sport, squash.

The questionnaire started OK with some general questions and then went into a series of specific questions relating to facilities, access, friendliness etc. After five minutes I begun to wonder how much longer it would go on so I looked at the per cent complete and it said 50%. I had hoped I was more than 50% complete but having got that far I decided to persevere. I filled in two more rounds and looked again and the per cent complete was still 50% at which point I stopped.

I write about usability and accessibility so I felt I could not just forget this so I found a contact us button on the survey and complained. The good news was that I got an answer the same day so plus points for the organisation. The bad news was the reason that the complete per cent did not move is that I was answering the questions relevant to my sport which were part of a bigger survey relating to many sports. This meant that the per cent complete was meaningless, I was probably more than 90% complete, but I did not have the time or the inclination to try and finish the questionnaire.

The problem was that they had thought creator and not user and the result was that I, and probably many other people, aborted the process and the survey results were less useful than they could have been.

Many years ago when I first started writing business reports I went on a course. I do not remember much about it except the adage ‘think reader not writer’. Later I learnt that Shaw ended a letter to a friend ‘Sorry this letter is so long but I did not have time to write a shorter one’.

I have updated the sentiment to ‘Think user not creator’ and I hope the reasons are obvious, they include:

  • The user will be pleased by a process that is quick, easy and requires the minimum of thought to understand.
  • There will normally be multiple users and therefore a little extra effort by the creator will be multiplied to a large reduction in effort for the user community.
  • Clarity will reduce, hopefully eliminate, the number of users who abort the process midway, whether that is completing a survey, buying a product, agreeing an action or just being better informed.

So please, whenever you create a digital artifact, web site, mobile app, on-line document or even a blog, like this one, please ‘Think user not yourself’. Conversely if you are a user of a digital artifact and it is clear that the creator thought of themselves rather than you tell them.