October 26, 2004
David referred me to a fascinating column about how to design your software or website so that users don't need to panic too much and abandon the whole thing. "Panic is far more pervasive than we assume." So says Tog. Here are some excerpts I liked. If these tickle you, read the whole thing; it's really funny.
The Ancient Greeks blamed the woodland sprite, Pan, for panic.
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When we create technologies that are extremely complex and do not provide comprehensive feedback for each and every possible error, such as a seat belt left unbuckled, people have a tendency to drive their aircraft into garden parties.
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Most of scuba training centers on potential panic situations...This training becomes almost fanatical in the case of helicopter pilots, who have approximately three seconds to carry out a single, critical action in case of any hint of engine failure (lowering the “collective” control to cause the blades to autogyro). Failing to accomplish this task results in the helicopter taking on the aerodynamics of a set of car keys.
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We all spend a lot of time in scuba class learning to “buddy-breath.” When you run out of air, you swim to your partner, slash your finger under your throat, then use puppy-dog eyes until your buddy takes the breather out of his mouth and hands it to you.
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Many users who hit one “bump” during their exploration of a website or application will panic and back off. As anyone who has worked in tech support will attest, they immediately lose their ability to read, resulting in RTFM (read-the-manual) syndrome, reducing them to a quivering mass barely able to dial the 800 number.
Most websites don’t suffer from this tech support problem. Why? Because users just simply go somewhere else. The penalty for these bumps in the road is not only instantaneous and permanent, but invisible. They typically don’t bother to let you know why they are leaving, and even if they do write a complaint in that cute little postage-stamp-sized box on your customer-support form, your people are usually offering the now-long-gone user a work-around, instead of reporting the problem to you.
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User testing is actually ideal for discovering fearful elements of a website or traditional application because your test-subject users are already frightened. They typically find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings and, regardless of all your gentle prefacing, believe they are being watched by these perfect strangers to see exactly how stupid they are. What could be more panic-provoking?
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Most of our panics on computers are in slow motion, and don’t usually result in death. They can, however, result in destruction.
This article led me to believe that Tog is a very funny, interesting author.
October 26, 2004 | Permalink
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