The three most asked questions in User Experience

A happy user has no questions.

That is the nirvana of an application. The end cycle of its rebirth through versions and releases. When users have no questions, the application is perfect. The programmer doesn’t need to worry anymore. He can let go because at that moment, they are both free of each other.

There are three question levels, which perfectly describe the frustration of a user, and make up the barometer of User’s Experience, but before the three questions, there is silence.

Silence (is gold)

You are observing somebody inexperienced using an application and he or she is just clicking and typing way, finishing the task and then passing to something else: you are not needed there. Go do some makeup changes to the UI, get paid and go home. Be assured that if you change anything substantial because you think it will be better, you are wrong. Anything you will touch will only make things worse. Remember the golden rule: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

I must also stress: Never interview/observe seasoned/experienced users. They have had the time to learn the hard way and adopt with the foolishness of a bad UX design. Only an inexperienced user can really show flaws in usability.

Question 1: Where is…? (Your work begins here)

This is the most used question by the users. It means that the user knows what to do, but the feature required is not under its logical menu parent and there is no apparent icon for it on the application’s ribbon. This situation brings delays in the process and distracts the user’s attention from the task at hand, diminishing productivity.

If with a bit of thinking the user can find what is looking for, keep a note that the item/feature is misplaced, and you should really think of transferring it in the most logical place derived from the information architecture presently used. Do not restructure/move anything else.

If the user has searched and has not found with the 4-5 attempts what is looking for not, the second question will be:

Question 2: Where the hell is it?

This means that the feature is not only misplaced but is hidden somewhere deep, with no logical sense in it. This is where common sense breaks down, the frustration begins, and most of the users will feel stupid and this is not nice. When this happens, most of the time users will search the FAQ or Google around to find the solution. If found, they will store it in their long-term memory as an exception. This is bad UX even if this happens to less than 20% of your interviewees.  

Here, most probably, reconsider the whole scenario. This is a sign that other parts of the UI may be organized in the same manner, so is best to consider some more investigating and longer observation/interview to be sure if this is just one user’s experience or something general.

If after these steps the user still does not have what is looking for, the logical question is:

Question 3: WTF is it?

This is the fundamental question you are getting paid for. This is when productivity’s dead. The process stops completely and the only remedy is the intervention of a more experienced user, normally a supervisor. This is bad not only work-wise, but a moral breaking point for the user.

If you find yourself in front of a situation like this, is best to reconsider the whole UI architecture and help files.

So, for everything you do toward usability, keep asking the Where question. Make simple answers for everybody and leave the complications at home. You are getting paid to build a simple and possibly child-proof User Experience.