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Users Are Not Stupid

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I've been troubled by something for a while. Programmers think users are stupid. Worse, they say it aloud at the worst times! Well, guess what? Many users think programmers are stupid too. This is clearly a communication problem. Just 'cause the user can't understand some technical diagram, isn't proof that the user is stupid. It's proof that that technical diagram is not the best communication tool.

How come the users think we're stupid? Well, haven't you built something and then showed the user(s) only for them to basically say, "Yuck"? If you hired somebody to build you a deck and when they were done, the deck was ugly and shakey, wouldn't you feel the builder was stupid? Would you blame yourself?

User's are not stupid. Find a way to communicate with them. Find a way to design with them. Show them your brilliance in terms they will understand and appreciate. It will result in both sides being much happier with the whole process.

Mike, I must strongly disagree with your statement "programmers think users are stupid". That's a generalization, and not only is it incorrect in my view, it's an unfair characterization.

I can tell you that *I* certainly don't espouse this belief, and most of the developers I know don't either. I can also say that I've designed LOTS of stuff where the user said "YUCK" (actually, the words were occasionally stronger than that -g-). I'd like to think that I was professional enough to check my ego at the door, REALLY listen to their issues, and try my level best to give them what they were looking for.

Having said THAT :) -- I do believe that users, managers and developers are extremely frustrated and disillusioned with each of the other groups, and with VERY good reason. IMHO, each group either refuses to listen to the concerns of the other groups, or ignores what those groups tell them and "does it their way".

Managers don't understand that promises to users are worthless without consulting the developers before making such promises. Users don't understand that developers often aren't allowed to do what they're asking without management approval, and that takes TIME. Developers ESPECIALLY don't understand that both managers and users often don't care one whit about the newest, coolest whizbang technology -- they just need the developer's product to FILL THEIR BUSINESS NEEDS as smoothly and efficiently as possible, for as little cost as possible.

Users DO NOT think developers are stupid -- they think WE DON'T LISTEN TO THEM. And, in many cases, they're exactly correct. Developers DO NOT think users are stupid -- they think THEY CAN'T UNDERSTAND. And, in most cases, they're exactly correct also. However, it's part of our job to HELP THEM to understand -- and that's VERY difficult for many developers.

I agree ABSOLUTELY AND COMPLETELY with your last paragraph. Convincing those who pay the tab to buy into that approach -- and pay for the effort to do so -- is, and always will be, the hardest part.

Evan Pauley -- 2005-10-02

I'm bewildered by this rant and it's purpose here. Is there something specific that happened that prompted it? Perhaps that would help us understand it ... Michael Wagner
I actually heard "Our users are too dumb for that" recently. This was from a person who spent 3 years trying to develop a system, that ultimately failed. User feedback was not looked for until very near the end of development.

Another group showed the results of months of work to the users for the first time. The users felt it looked nice, but they couldn't use it like that.

I've known of this communications gulf between US and the users. I've heard users called stupid far too often. Doesn't really matter if the word stupid is used. There's also the phrase "the moron on the 8th floor". Evan is right - it's not that anybody is stupid, but these are the results of the frustrations each group feels. I've decided it's wrong to denigrate the users and the rant is to underscore this problem. -- Mike Yearwood

Contributor Mike Yearwood
( Topic last updated: 2005.10.03 09:16:54 AM )