Users of every type were confused by the Programs folder
December 29, 2019 7:11 PM   Subscribe

 
While this change made it somewhat more difficult for outside groups to keep track of what we were doing, it allowed us to iterate at top speed.

Ah, the old "things are moving too quickly for status reports to reflect reality on the ground" ploy.
Only works on inexperienced managers I've found.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 7:34 PM on December 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


It took 9 1/2 minutes on average for the novice user to launch a program that was not immediately visible. The mind boggles.
posted by mai at 7:37 PM on December 29, 2019 [9 favorites]


Product support information told us that printer setup and configuration was the number one call-generator in Windows 3.1. Many of the problems stemmed from the printer setup UI. (See Figure 10.) Searching for a printer was difficult because all printers were in one long list. Choosing a port for the printer, especially in a networked environment, required tunneling down 4-5 levels and featured non-standard and complicated selection behavior.

Oh man. I believe it. (I also believe it’s still a problem—no, I don’t want to connect to a printer in Switzerland.)
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:39 PM on December 29, 2019 [6 favorites]


In the “waterfall” approach, the design of the system is compartmentalized (usually limited to a specification writing phase) and usability testing typically occurs near the end of the process, during quality assurance activities. We recognized that we needed much more opportunity to create a design, try it out with users (perhaps comparing it to other designs), make changes, and gather more user feedback.

I'm a ux designer at an enterprise software company and I still have to personally convince my boss that we should allow time in the schedule for this *on every project*.
posted by bleep at 7:50 PM on December 29, 2019 [16 favorites]


In the “waterfall” approach, the design of the system is compartmentalized (usually limited to a specification writing phase) and usability testing typically occurs near the end of the process, during quality assurance activities.

It's stupid management to bring in a critical stakeholder at the END of your process, waterfall or not. What's wrong wasn't "waterfall" methodology, it's the executives' inability to properly identify and make sure adequate stakeholder representation is present at all steps. That includes keeping QA involved from day 1. That involves input from USERS being involved from day 1 (not in the Homer Simpson-designed car sense, but actual data on behavior of actual users for existing UI and proposed changes). What they call "iterative design" I call.... wait for it.... "design." Unfortunately the majority of Art Directors I've worked with like to design for other designers rather than users, who are so dumb and messy.

People still haven't really learned this lesson.
posted by tclark at 7:52 PM on December 29, 2019 [20 favorites]


It's stupid management to bring in a critical stakeholder at the END of your process
....
I still have to personally convince my boss that we should allow time in the schedule for this *on every project*.


QED.
posted by tclark at 7:53 PM on December 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


To add, these comments weren't meant in terms of disagreeing with the article in any way. I think the Windows 95 folks did a good job of getting a broad type of user in on the process early, and I think that speaks volumes to the fact that (in my honest opinion) Windows 95 may not have pulled ahead of the Mac OS in terms of usability but it made significant strides in solving similar problems in a different way from the Mac.
posted by tclark at 8:00 PM on December 29, 2019


95 was a massive step forward from 3.11 in terms of user experience.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:18 PM on December 29, 2019 [8 favorites]


Right when Windows 95 came out, I wrote a VB database application for a group that I was working for at a manufacturing firm and as my reward, I got to personally train everyone in the group to use it. I found out that quite a few people on the team didn't know what a desktop was or what minimizing a window was. IT had set up the computers to start a bunch of applications full-screen on boot and they'd never seen the desktop underneath and didn't know what an icon was. They just alt-tabbed between applications and never started a new one. When I was showing a co-worker how to minimize a window she got upset because she didn't know how to get it back.
posted by octothorpe at 9:15 PM on December 29, 2019 [11 favorites]


Oh man. I believe it. (I also believe it’s still a problem—no, I don’t want to connect to a printer in Switzerland.)

The only effective UI I know of in this situation is to move the problem to meatspace. Walk up to the printer in question and badge in to retrieve your print jobs from the queue.
posted by pwnguin at 1:45 AM on December 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


After 15 years working helpdesk, I can tell you a lot of users still don't know what a desktop is. Some think you are talking about the physical desktop the computers sit on, some don't register any meaning from the word at all. The same goes for terms like taskbar, start menu, system tray etc.
You often have to explain the desktop as "the pretty background picture of your boat/kids/dog with all the little icons on it", and the start menu button as the blue ball in the lower left / white flag thing, depending on your Windows version.

One caller couldn't find a desktop icon at all, I had him read out he ones he had. He started listing "Prutt Scurr, Sys Wreck, Scroll Lock, Pause, F1, F2, F3"
posted by Snjo at 1:46 AM on December 30, 2019 [14 favorites]


I found out that quite a few people on the team didn't know what a desktop was or what minimizing a window was.

Right. I had a job in the early 2000s where I was sometimes doing ad hoc desktop support for anything that someone was having trouble with; I quickly learned to not even try to talk them through stuff over the phone. You really couldn't count on them knowing what common computer vocabulary like "drag the files to the directory" meant, and people were generally embarassed to tell you "I don't know what you mean by that". You had to come to their office and watch them try to accomplish the problem task.
posted by thelonius at 1:59 AM on December 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


I agree with the statements above that Windows 95 had an excellent UI, only really beaten by classic Mac. It's certainly better than it is now, with the principle of "discoverability," where you could probably find the option yourself, thrown to the wind in favor of making users enter their option in a custom-purpose search engine, meaning you get to play guess-the-magic-word even more often in your computing life.
posted by JHarris at 2:14 AM on December 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


At least if you were lost in Windows 95, you could always ask friends for help.
posted by fairmettle at 2:47 AM on December 30, 2019




I find it ironic that an article on usabilty is presented in a thin gray font on a white background.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:57 AM on December 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


The team faced a major decision: spend weeks changing the spec to reflect the new ideas and lose valuable time for iterating or stop updating the spec and let the prototypes and code serve as a “living” spec.

After some debate, the team decided to take the latter approach. While this change made it somewhat more difficult for outside groups to keep track of what we were doing, it allowed us to iterate at top speed. The change also had an unexpected effect: it brought the whole team closer together because much of the spec existed in conversations and on white boards in people’s offices. Many “hallway” conversations ensued and continued for the duration of the project.
I'm pretty sloppy when it comes to process, but the idea of a 'living spec' kept in the hallway seems, if not something I wouldn't do, at least not something I would tell anyone.
posted by MtDewd at 6:13 AM on December 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


After 15 years working helpdesk, I can tell you a lot of users still don't know what a desktop is.

Within the past 12 months I have had to explain to someone what a cursor is, what scrollbars are (especially that bedeviling horizontal scroll), and I have to explain what browser tabs are pretty much on the daily. Humans have not become more computer literate we've just created user interfaces that cope better with humans.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:56 AM on December 30, 2019 [6 favorites]


When I was showing a co-worker how to minimize a window she got upset because she didn't know how to get it back.

I had a friend who, if she wanted to use a different program in Windows 3.1, physically cycled the power, booted into DOS and then ran Windows again. She was very surprised when I told her (A) that wasn't good and (B) you can close programs.
posted by Foosnark at 7:11 AM on December 30, 2019 [9 favorites]


I think it's useful to separate "computer literacy" in the sense of having some idea of what's happening at a low level (analogous to knowing an internal combustion engine at core operates by aerosolized gasoline exploding in a piston this complete my low level understanding of an internal combustion engine), and "interface literacy" both in the sense of knowing how various graphic elements control the software and in the sense of knowing the commonly used words for them. The median level of both is extremely low but they are separate skills, and in some cases, e.g. "browser tab", neither what an element is graphically on the screen or what it does are very well communicated by the generic definitions of the constituents of the term without having knowledge of several other commonly used UI/UX metaphors.
posted by PMdixon at 7:17 AM on December 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


And we're also now living in a world where there's more pressure for Facebook literacy than for browser or OS literacy — and also more social support for gaining Facebook literacy.

(FWIW, I don't think that reflects badly on people who use their computer that way. I can use Word and never managed to understand the difference between the stack and the heap, and when I was a kid there were people who thought that was reprehensible. Whatever. People learn what they need.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:23 AM on December 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


the difference between the stack and the heap

In my first programming class, which was in Gofer, a sort of simplified Haskell, a failed attempt at writing a recursive function often terminated in the error "the stack has collided with the heap" . I had no idea what that meant, but I found it to be beautiful and also strangely satisfying. At least my program managed to break some shit!

I had a job in the early 2000s where I was sometimes doing ad hoc desktop support for anything that someone was having trouble with; I quickly learned to not even try to talk them through stuff over the phone.

I had a lot of compassion for my clients who were older admin staff, some of them older women cast off into the workforce by divorce, approaching retirement age, and whose jobs had suddenly drastically changed by the advent of the PC and then networked computing. I came to understand that this was not fun for them, not a cool adventure in learning technology; it was really stressful. They were afraid they were going to lose their jobs if they couldn't keep up, and they were afraid to ask for help because either they didn't want to look dumb or they thought this would expose them as being not up to the demands of the new regime. When the Word attachment macro viruses hit , like "I love you", my coworkers and I had to go through the whole building patching people's machines, and I had clients weeping at their desk because they thought they were going to be blamed for propagating the email virus. A lot of the job was hand-holding and building trust and learning how to tell people what they were doing wrong without making them feel like shit.
posted by thelonius at 7:34 AM on December 30, 2019 [56 favorites]


I remember changing from DOS with Wordpress and Quattro Pro to Windows 95. Everything I know about Word and Excel I learned from cursing at the monitor.
posted by corvikate at 8:26 AM on December 30, 2019


Wow. The attitude here. Stupid users who don't know what a desktop or scrollbars is.

If you really need your daily 15 minutes or rage you can keep it.

After more than 20 years as a ux designer, programmer, manager and user I've found out my days can go better, my cortisol can stay lower and I can meet more interesting people if I see it as a personal challenge to fill in what the ux is missing, and not as users being idiots.

How can I explain a bunch of complex and non-obvious (obvious to me because I've been doing it all my life) concepts and processes to an otherwise intelligent person? If 10 people fail at the same step, then it is bad design, not stupid users.

On preview, what thelonious said.
posted by Dr. Curare at 8:40 AM on December 30, 2019 [13 favorites]


FWIW, I wasn't reading most of these comments as angry or scornful — and believe me, I've seen my share of the sort of angry, scornful LOLUSERS comments you're mad about — just as acknowledging the situation. People don't know as much as designers expect them to. (Help desk folks see that up close.) And that, as you say, makes design challenging.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:45 AM on December 30, 2019 [16 favorites]


Wow. The attitude here. Stupid users who don't know what a desktop or scrollbars is.

Or maybe it's really helpful for people to be able to enumerate all the analogies that don't work, and actually the most arrogant flaw is to fail to empathise with the reason people are saying what they're saying.
posted by ambrosen at 8:58 AM on December 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


The whole point of TFA is that the Windows guys thought they knew what it should look like, but their designs didn't survive user testing at all. So they had to redesign the whole thing around what actually worked, so users could figure out how to use the thing. In the process they invented the Start menu and the taskbar, and fixed the Open/Save As boxes to make some sense; while imperfect (still), they were way better than they were before. It's actually pretty impressive.

(something something out of touch, no it's the users who are wrong)
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:06 AM on December 30, 2019 [7 favorites]


Wow. The attitude here. Stupid users who don't know what a desktop or scrollbars is.


I certainly never thought that or meant to communicate that. The group I was working with were all well educated, mostly chemists, they just didn't have a computer background and weren't trained on Windows well enough. If anyone was stupid, it was me for thinking those concepts were obvious and not worth explaining.
posted by octothorpe at 9:20 AM on December 30, 2019 [7 favorites]


In a past life as a software engineer, and a time supporting real human users, those people who were always invoked during design sessions in software engineering land, all I can say is that failure occurs because of design and because in the real world IT staff seem to refuse to actually train users in how to use the computer and applications. It’s as if the Mac convinced people that if there are mice and windows and icons then people intuitively know how and what to do. It’s not stupid users so much as out of touch designers and engineers working for companies who forgot what real software QA was in the pursuit of profits.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:29 AM on December 30, 2019


(analogous to knowing an internal combustion engine at core operates by aerosolized gasoline exploding in a piston this complete my low level understanding of an internal combustion engine)

I think you will take this the right way, (and not as nitpicky condescending argumentation,) which is as sharing a love of understanding. The fuel air mixture burns, it is a bad thing when it explodes. This leads to an explanation of Octane Ratings, compression, super and turbo charging, tetraethyl lead and crime, and a whole lot more that is quite a pleasure to learn about.

NOW ON THE OTHER HAND. I have always found the user experience to be a bit fraught and usually a puzzle. I know how difficult it is to be able to explain or facilitate something for someone when you have long ago moved past the basics and are immersed in the jargon filled pool of advanced comprehension of arcana; making a complex machine self explaining is a pretty awesome challenge, (see the video of the 2 kids trying to make a call with a rotary phone.) I think that, unfortunately, whether in the design or implementation of so many tech goods there is a real absence of humility about the creators own lack of understanding of the experience being created and an over reliance on their own familiarity with something they have created to judge its usability.

I remember reading about something like windows 3.1 and how a graphic designer wanted to do something that was simple from the point of view of using a pencil and how much angry effort was expended trying to make that happen by the more code enabled people without them telling the graphic designer that what she wanted would be very difficult. It was almost as if they enjoyed being angry and "forced" to do something "stupid" by those "stupid designers who don't understand ANYTHING about how this works." I hope that tech culture has changed since then but I often wonder if there is something timeless about that dynamic.
posted by Pembquist at 9:39 AM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Designers broke the deadlock by learning to code.
posted by sjswitzer at 10:39 AM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


They just alt-tabbed between applications and never started a new one.

Conversely, I am continually shocked how few people I encounter actually know any keyboard shortcuts at all. I find mouse-based navigation painfully tedious, and spend a lot of time holding my tongue.

There really is a balance between good/accessible/simple design and creating functional, powerful programs/GUIs. It's fascinating how the 95 team tried to thread that needle.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:09 PM on December 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'll never forget drive mapping, and the user who had 2 drive letters mapped to the same folder. She deleted several folders from the E: drive, thinking that they were duplicates of the M: drive, and didn't understand why all the shared files were disappearing...

Great fun!
posted by Chuffy at 12:25 PM on December 30, 2019


My cat found some amazing Win 98 keyboard shortcuts. I really wish I knew what she pressed; it started doing stuff I had never seen before.
posted by thelonius at 12:27 PM on December 30, 2019 [9 favorites]


...failure occurs because of design and because in the real world IT staff seem to refuse to actually train users in how to use the computer and applications.

Having 25+ years of IT experience, I would like to posit that it is not the IT staff that seem to refuse to actually train users in how to use the computer and applications, it is the users that seem to refuse the training. In fact, if training was not mandatory, championed by executives at the company and prioritized above "getting work done," the attendance rate for any sort of OS or applications training would be close to zero. Putting the onus on people other than users to invest the time needed to learn something foreign to them is why people bitch endlessly about how painful the UI is, or [insert platform bigotry comment here]. Individual users expecting a tailored-to-them training session whenever they can't figure out how to print a PowerPoint document they worked on for 3 hours and never saved once tend to ignore that IT service delivery is a one to many ratio, not the other way around. RTFM.

Designers and IT staff have been forced to reverse engineer their systems to accommodate the nearly universal refusal of users to invest any time in understanding or figuring out anything new.
posted by Chuffy at 12:54 PM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


It was almost as if they enjoyed being angry and "forced" to do something "stupid" by those "stupid designers who don't understand ANYTHING about how this works." I hope that tech culture has changed since then but I often wonder if there is something timeless about that dynamic.

Yeahhhh...I had that UI design job. I think it’s a timeless thing with devs. If I had a nickel for every time a dev told me whatever it was I wanted to do absolutely couldn’t be done. Luckily, the CTO had my back (and actuallywas the smartest person in the room, which was full of others who thought they were the smartest one in the room) and was always quick to straighten them out on how it could be accomplished, and why it should be done my way.

...........
I would like to posit that it is not the IT staff that seem to refuse to actually train users in how to use the computer and applications, it is the users that seem to refuse the training.

I would posit that, quite often, refusing the training tended to have more to do with the attitudes the trainers took toward the users. To be fair, IT folks aren’t trained instructors, but that doesn’t excuse their all-too-common open disdain for users.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:00 PM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


I am a technical trainer and have a degree in education. There's no one reason why this is hard.

We've had generally available PCs for, what, 30 years now? That is not enough time to figure out their role in society, who needs to know what about them, and why. I train people who, at the start of their careers, handed sheafs of hand-written notes to a secretary and a day later recieved a stack of mimeographs ready to distribute at their next lecture. A couple decades later, they don't have a secretary anymore (because computers! everyone can do everything themselves now!) and are expected to not only type their own materials but to then decide on the proper electronic format, ensure digital accessibility, and upload it to a learning management system in a way that can be easily located and used by their students (who are all over the map in terms of their own ability to navigate these systems) and troubleshoot when their students inevitably email at 11 pm about how they can't download the handout on the LMS. I really hope this isn't the end state of PC usage in professional settings because it sucks for everyone.
posted by soren_lorensen at 2:43 PM on December 30, 2019 [9 favorites]


I'm a developer, and have been using computers for a long while now, but I still have moments nearly every day where I shout at my computer (good thing I live alone). I find I'm On a Computer Isn't This Cool? as a motivating force is long gone (for nearly everything not directly related to the project I'm working on, anyway).

For example, I don't have Chrome on this machine any longer. About a month ago, that program auto-updated itself and then promptly died in the biggest way possible (I can't even get to a settings screen). I spent about fifteen minutes on an almost useless google exploration for solutions (thank you for endless 2011 forum results referring to program versions now only seen in software museums), tried removing all traces of Chrome from this machine (which in itself involves a tedious trek through the byzantine places apps stash their files), re-installed the program from scratch and still...crash city. And so I'm done, fuck that noise.

When I was younger, why did this stupid thing die? would have been a compelling enough force to get me to work through whatever stupid registry (?) or random config or file system artifact (??) has caused this, but, again, fuck it. Ain't no one got time for that. I use firefox by preference anyway, and, gods forbid, I can always fire up edge. (If I need to test something in Chrome, another laptop still has a working version--for now, anyway.)

I'm a computer professional, naturally inclined to have a high "fuck it" threshold for this stuff, and yet.

My mother, who, before dementia set in, was decent with email and simple web browsing on her Windows 7 machine, completely lost her hard-won abilities when my brother got her a new machine which ran Windows 8 (obviously a number of years ago). She was convinced the computer was broken, kept trying to pay the little computer shop in her town to "fix" it, and no matter how many in-person tutorials or written instruction sheets we provided could not make the "paradigm leap" required. And she wasn't a dumb person, by any means.

I think about that a lot. I'm generally a fan of Windows 10, but can't forget that the change from 7 to 8 was enough to drive my mom away from computers entirely, almost certainly not what an undoubtedly large and well compensated team of UI pros at MS would have anticipated.

I think many folks approach computers expecting it to be something that can be learned once--like, say, how to use a saw, or saute onions. They are unprepared for the fact that computers constantly change the way they expect us to interact with them, often in (initially, given the existing model) counter-intuitive ways.

In case you wanted a grumpy old grey-beard's take.
posted by maxwelton at 5:17 PM on December 30, 2019 [17 favorites]


I think many folks approach computers expecting it to be something that can be learned once--like, say, how to use a saw, or saute onions.

The guy who taught the class I mentioned told us, 25 years ago, that learning to use computers was like if instead of just knowing how to drive, you only knew how to drive a Ford, or a Chevy, or a Toyota. Like if one of them had the steering wheel mounted above you on the ceiling, one of them required that you turn on the headlights in order to shift into third gear, and so on. All these years later, I think that situation is better....some.
posted by thelonius at 6:09 PM on December 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


I am a technical trainer and have a degree in education. There's no one reason why this is hard.

If I had to choose one reason, I'd say economics. The easier you make it to use a computer, the less people study them at all. Similar to the theory that seatbelts don't save lives on net because people drive more dangerously.
posted by pwnguin at 10:03 PM on December 30, 2019


I think many folks approach computers expecting it to be something that can be learned once--like, say, how to use a saw, or saute onions.

Or drive a car. Around the turn of the century, an 80-year-old member of a club I was in wanted to learn how to use a computer to write his memoirs. Now, I was beginning a new career as a tech writer, and had recently been forced to learn Windows because my wife insisted she needed a Windows computer. Because Business! I was her at-home IT. I'd been using Macs up until that point. When a couple of seasoned PC-users in the club started telling old George that if he could drive a car, he could learn a PC, I disagreed, and said that running a computer was more like driving a submarine than a car, and the learning curve was nowhere near as steep on a Mac. I got shouted down. Those guys weren't writers, and certainly only wound up on PCs because whatever companies they worked for made them. Don't know if George ever got his memoirs done, or if he died while still trying to remember where the margin controls in Word were.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:24 AM on December 31, 2019



I would posit that, quite often, refusing the training tended to have more to do with the attitudes the trainers took toward the users. To be fair, IT folks aren’t trained instructors, but that doesn’t excuse their all-too-common open disdain for users.


Yeah, this is the vicious cycle of attitudes. Users frequently assume that IT folks, who are generally NOT trained instructors, have disdain for them. That perceived disdain, I'm certain, has absolutely nothing to do with users literally coming in daily with accusatory, frustrated, stressed-out concerns about their project not being delivered on time because their computer doesn't work and demanding that the IT staff not only solve their problem immediately, but do it with a smile and a "thank you" for the blistering insult delivered at the same time.

Oh look, I rebooted it. It works. Thanks for that wonderful experience serving you, dear user. I accept full responsibility for your failure to deliver on your project, just make sure you tell the entire team at your meeting that it was the IT guy's fault your presentation was not completed on time. Have a nice day. Oh, and the power button is here, in case you need to wake your laptop up after you get back from that 3 martini lunch and it has "crashed." I'm so sorry about my attitude, won't let it happen again.
posted by Chuffy at 9:57 AM on December 31, 2019


Wait, they train people? At their jobs?
posted by Huffy Puffy at 10:54 AM on December 31, 2019 [3 favorites]


It’s as if the Mac convinced people that if there are mice and windows and icons then people intuitively know how and what to do.

My first computer was an early 90s Macintosh. I have fond memories of the bundled game that taught you how to use a mouse. If that's the lesson the Mac taught, it was only to people who didn't pay attention to what the Mac was actually doing.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 3:42 PM on December 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


I remember when Apple released a mouse capable of right-clicking...a truly genius, futuristic design, in 2005.
posted by Chuffy at 10:36 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


I remember when Apple released a mouse capable of right-clicking...a truly genius, futuristic design, in 2005.

And they cleverly hid it as a stealth feature on a mouse with no obvious buttons because Steve Jobs was adamantly against it.
posted by sjswitzer at 3:32 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


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