Monday, February 04, 2008

User Skills Improving, But Only Slightly

Designing for users' new knowledge level ...

"Users now do basic operations with confidence and perform with skill on sites they use often. But when users try new sites, well-known usability problems still cause failures.

Enemies of usability have two counter-arguments against design guidelines that are based on user research:

* "You're testing idiots — most users are smarter and don't mind complexity."
* "You were right in the past, but users have now learned how to use advanced websites, so simplicity isn't a requirement anymore."

I decided to put these claims to the test in a new study we're currently conducting. We'll use the new insights generated by the study to update our course on Fundamental Guidelines for Web Usability.

Because we're testing this year's sites with this year's users, the study automatically assesses the second claim.

We can't directly assess whether our study participants are idiots, since we don't subject them to an IQ test. But participants' comments during all of our studies these past 14 years indicate that we've mainly had plenty smart test users. Unless a specific study calls for participants with a different profile, we mostly recruit people with respectable jobs — an engineering consultant, an equity trader, a lawyer, an office manager, a real estate agent, a speech therapist, and a teacher, to take some of the job titles from the first week of our current study.

One part of the current study tests B2B sites since many of our seminar audience work on such sites. This time, we chose sites targeting dentists in clinical practice, IT managers from big corporations, and CEOs of small businesses. Thus, we have disproportionally many users with these job descriptions. They aren't stupid.

One way of quantifying the level of users we're currently testing is to look at their annual income. In our screening, we look at the user's personal income, rather than his or her household income. We also recruit an equal number of people making: below $50,000, $50,000–99,999, and $100,000 or more. The following table compares our users with the entire U.S. population (according to the Census Bureau) within the study's target age range (20–60 years; we've covered kids, teens, and seniors in other research):"    (Continued via Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

Users' Income  - Usability, User Interface Design

Users' Income


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