Curiousity vs. Fear

June 17, 2014

My mother is not particularly web savvy.  She writes and reads emails.  She participates on Facebook.  But she does not spend a large amount of time on the internet like the (increasingly) average American does.  This has been made abundantly clear to me after she expressed an interest in starting a side business and I expressed a willingness to establish her web presence.  I naively thought a user-friendly website or Facebook page could be quickly established and easily maintained by even the least digitally-inclined senior citizen around.  Or at least that’s what I had been lead to believe by the ubiquitous human interest pieces I see claiming that technology knows no cultural boundaries.  That even the oldest Luddite amongst us could be invited into the digital world with only a few quick pointers.  That interactive design had reached such a point that even the proverbial man living under a rock could start a Twitter account if left alone with a laptop and something snarky to say.

I was wrong.

Quite simply, I have learned that the basics of interactive design are dependent upon a simple human characteristic that not all of us have, but that designers probably have at a higher quantity than most: curiosity. Perhaps this truth is old hat to everybody else but me, but until recently, I would’ve assumed that when a web user is faced with an uncertain choice, and finds a handful of buttons or dropdown menus on the screen before them, that said web user would try out those buttons to see what happens. Certainly if those controls are well-designed, offering a logical solution to whatever problem the user is faced with. But that is not the case. Instead, there are people who see a row of UI controls and are compelled to do nothing. As the curious designer-type, I don’t pretend to understand this response completely, but it would seem that, even in today’s digital world, there is a fear of technology that paralyzes the technophobe into inactivity, out of fear of doing something wrong, or making their unclear situation worse. That no matter how clearly designed the interface is, there are people who will refuse to use it without outside assistance.

Though this is a problem that I suspect will eventually disappear altogether, I can’t help but feel that it’s something I need to keep in mind as I work, even on projects that have nothing to do with the internet. Certainly designers must work with the idea that not everybody thinks like they do, but more than that, we must work as if there are people who are actively thinking in direct opposition to the way that we think.