I saw a neat feature about a month ago on a blog (I forget where exactly), a setting in Firefox called browser.search.openintab that would make all searches in that little search box open in a new tab. Since I normally do that, I figured why not save me a key press (I normally press ctrl+T, tab, then search, now I can just press F6, tab, then search). Well, a month later, it’s still not working out for me. I find myself still opening a new tab before searching, which in turn opens another new tab. Why is it? Why can’t I get used to this tiny little change to my internet browsing habits?
The answer’s because I’m used to what I’m used to, as we all are. I’ve been doing the same key combination for years, and I’m accustomed to it. This leads to an interesting point about software design: people do not want to change what they do, you must modify your software to make them happy. It’s been said by many people time and time again that if you say something to the effect of “my software’s fine, the user’s just stupid” then you will repeatedly fail at making popular software. If your target audience is Yankee fans, you don’t make a website with Mets colors. Similarly, if your target audience is average users, you don’t make your site so that only CS majors can use it.
So please, next time you design something for the average joe, and your mom calls and says “I have no idea how to use this,” instead of telling her she just doesn’t understand it, instead sit down and figure out why it’s confusing and, more importantly, how to fix it. That’s what field studies are for, and they do come in handy.