“I should have known better…”

People generally blame themselves when the design of a website causes them to error. “I should have known better” or “I didn’t know that because I’m new to the site”. This is an interesting response that seems to go against human nature. People tend to naturally blame others for mistakes, and give themselves credit for their successes. Not necessarily out of bad intentions, it’s just easier to accept responsibility for a success, than it is to own up to a failure. This is also seen with the way people interact with objects. For example ”They just don’t make things like they used to” and “This stupid car is always breaking down”, blaming the outside world for failures, when the fault may have just as easily been their own.

Therefore it is especially interesting that users tend to accept responsibility for failures on the technology’s behalf. This is an important thing to understand, especially in user testing.  Anytime a user blames themselves for a mistake they made while trying to perform a task in the system it should raise a flag that the system is probably not as intuitive as it should be. This is a system issue, it may come down to something as simple as renaming a label or it may be as complex as re-architecting an entire process. But the important thing to remember is that your job is to make the system easier to use. Don’t let the users quick reaction to take the blame distract you from what is really being discovered. Something in the system needs to be re-evaluated.

So why do users take the heat anyway? One reason is that technology is still such a new field which most of the public is still learning. When you are learning to do something for the first time, you are much more open to the idea that you may get it wrong a time or two before you succeed. Another reason is perceived simplicity. Although technology is still new, it is known to “make life easier”. Therefore when someone tries to complete a task that they perceive should be a simple one, one that many people consider to be easier than a real-world option, and they make a mistake it seems self obvious that it must be their own. Because hey, everyone else gets it, right?

I think that it’s important also keep in mind that this mind set is most likely not a permanent one. While there will continually be new technologies and advancement that users don’t quickly understand, the basics of the web are becoming more and more ingrained in everyday life. Usability is becoming a more common term, and soon people will judge and choose websites more on their ease of use and efficiency than before. Just as with anything that gains normalcy and inspires competition over time, the general public will becomes more advanced in their ability to use technology, their demands for good technology will rise with it causing the blame to slowly shift from the user to the system.