07 Aug 2023
"Make something idiot-proof, the world will show you a better idiot"
Ever felt the frustration of crafting an 'idiot-proof' masterpiece, only to watch the world conjure up a brand-new kind of 'genius'?
What is an "idiot-proof" design?
Okay, picture a game where you have to put different-shaped blocks into matching holes. An "idiot-proof" design would make the holes just the right size for each block so that it's really easy to fit them together. But guess what? Sometimes, someone might try to put a big block into a small hole or mix up the pieces in a funny way.
So, an "idiot-proof" design tries to make things really simple, but people can still find surprising ways to mess up the whole thing.
If you're a developer, you might have encountered this person that despite all your efforts to make things look clean but intuitive at the same time, manages to fail at doing something obvious.
Frustrating, right? Before we continue, relax and let's hear some juicy stories...
Compilation of 'idiot-proof' fails
"I have an error, help!!!" or "X doesn't work"
This is in my opinion the most frustrating. Usually, the conversation goes like this:
"I can't access my personal dashboard from my iPad"
"What is the error message?"
"Internet connection unavailable"
"Do you have Wi-Fi enabled?"
"No, I'm on the road"
You might think that only elderly people can act like this. But the hurtful reality is that even young adults who grew up with Internet do this.
In my opinion, people just panic when they see an error and instantly lose their ability to think / act rationally. It seems like they also lose the ability to read.
"Can you please refresh the page and retry?"
Imagine you're working for a client and they faced a bug on your app. You patch it immediately, message him "It's all good, can you please refresh the page and retry?" and you get this answer:
"What do you mean 'refresh the page'?? I'm no software engineer!"
At this moment, you feel the urge to respond "ok boomer" but you end up sending screenshots to show the customer how to refresh the page. But this one deserves our indulgence because the end user might be your grandpa.
Basic logic left the chat
I remember working on a fintech app for a customer, he was one of the first to get into the market but failed to grow his business after a few years.
After I released the first version in production, he registered on the platform and tried to send money through it, but an error occurred:
"I can't transfer funds, why ?!!", he said.
"Let's bug-fix and chill", I said to myself.
Turns out, after a few seconds of investigating, he didn't add any money to his account. Might be related to his business' failure, just a thought...
Discount code that nobody uses
Okay this one is personal, I still see people subscribing but not applying the -50% discount code we created for our dynamic QR code generator.
Guys, it's literally a few pixels above the title! But we get it, so we will continue to send e-mails to you to remind you of the offer ;)
Why idiot-proofs designs fail?
1. 100% idiot-proofness is impossible
This is maybe difficult to accept, but you have to: you cannot build a 100% idiot-proof product.
You might have heard that phrase saying "if the universe if infinite, then everything is possible". Yea sure. If we follow that principle, then, somewhere, far far way in the universe, there might be a human being who has your face, Mickey Mouse's ears and Goku's hairstyle.
But it is unlikely to happen and you surely won't experience it because the universe would have died by then.
2. People are too different
Out in the wild, you'll encounter folks who'll only get your app if you throw it back to a vintage Windows vibe from '87 with a bunch of semi-3D icons. Others need a spotlight on their next move, like a neon arrow. You can't predict it all – focus on the basics, shield the chaos, and let time sort the rest.
3. Some people are just wired differently
There are certain things you can't control in life, and people's use of Internet is one of them. You have to accept that these people won't understand technology better - for the rest of their lives.
4. You are the problem
While the concept of an effortless user experience sounds like a dream, sometimes the blame for its shortcomings lies on your shoulder. Let me explain why:
The "I-Know-It-All" mirage
Picture this: Creators cooking up designs that seem like a cakewalk to them. Trouble is, what’s crystal clear in their brilliant minds might end up looking like a convoluted treasure hunt for regular folks. Assumptions, my friends, can trip us up.
Cursed by knowledge
Hey, creators, your brain's like an encyclopedia on steroids for your creation. But hold up, not everyone holds a PhD in your web wizardry. Sometimes, dumbing it down is the smart move.
Vanity & Ego
Now, designers, I'm talking to you. Getting all fancy with your jaw-dropping designs is cool and all, but remember, it's not a Picasso show. If users are scratching their heads instead of nodding in awe, it might be time for a reality check.
Ever heard the phrase "listening is an art"? Well, it applies here too. Ignoring user feedback that doesn't match your grand vision is like playing hide and seek with blinders on. Peekaboo, your flaws are still there. Kinda related to the ego part.
Too many features packed into a product can be overwhelming. Users aren't in the mood to decipher a Rubik's Cube. Simplicity, my friends, is your trusty sidekick.
So, what's the solution?
- First of all, assume that some people won't understand your product by themselves. An ambitious goal would be to have 90% of the people to understand and use what you make. Trying to cover the other 10% is an almost impossible task.
- Put your ego in your pocket and listen to people. Sit down with the least tech-savvy person you know, let him use your product and take note. Put your frustration aside: this guy is literally showing you how to improve your product.
- Every time you do something, take a second and ask yourself "Can you ELI5 this ?".
- Less is better. So when your client yells "Give us a WYSIWYG text editor!" - give them the basics: b, i, u, ul, ol, links, img. Fancy extras? Shoot them on later, only if the craving strikes. 99.9% of those clients won't even think about the other fancy features.
- Finally, convert to stoicism or die of the sure-to-come aneurysm you'll get from frustration.
A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
- Douglas Adams