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Stupidity and the generation game

By Gareth Dunlop
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Stupidity and the generation game

Within my wider family circle no–one quite knows what I do for a living and the closest my braver relatives ever venture is “Gareth does something to do with computers”.  I don’t have the nerve to tell them that I haven’t written a line of software code in anger since 1999 and that my early retirement from the programming profession was a source of great relief to those still in it.

As a result of this, I am occasionally called upon by kith and kin for general IT support.  Such an occupation is strictly death or glory, as I leave each individual venture either as a prince (some kind of computer–whisperer) or a pauper (clueless bluffer) but nothing in between.  As long as turning it off and turning it back on again continues to bear fruit, my win / loss ratio will remain acceptable.

From time to time my mission, should I choose to accept it, is to help a relative with a website problem.  This problem is typically buying a flight, arranging accommodation, checking–in for a flight or printing out a boarding pass.  You get the picture.  Upon acceptance of payment terms (coffee and biscuits) I make a visit and get to work.  Usually I have made some form of progress as the coffee arrives and frequently my relatives, particularly the older ones feel a little embarrassed by the perceived ease with which I get them sorted out, and comment “I just can’t do it; I’m stupid, I’m stupid”.

When I hear this two things strike me.  The first is how much less stupid my relation would feel if the person who had designed the check–out system, the boarding–pass process or the hotel–booking system had spent just half an hour in my uncle’s living room, or my aunt’s study observing their needs, understanding their questions and relating to their vocabulary before designing the system.

My second observation however is more striking and commercially relevant.

Allow me to illustrate it by referring to a well–known cartoon called “What’s up with these grades” which involves a child, two parents and a teacher.  In 1969 the two parents are asking the sheepish–looking child “What’s up with these grades?” whereas in 2009 the two parents, standing beside their smug–looking child are asking the teacher “What’s up with these grades?”

Every year Fathom conducts of the order of 200 usability tests for organisations of all shapes and sizes and for users of varying ages, genders, interests and socio–economic groups.  The websites and software which we test often elicit very different emotions and responses across their user base; sometimes the product is very usable and pleases the user and other times it is virtually unusable and make the user feel angry or stupid.

And among the younger users who we test in particular, when a website or piece of software makes them feel stupid we notice a reaction very different to an aggravated aunt or upset uncle.  Their response isn’t “I just can’t do it; I’m stupid, I’m stupid” but rather “I just can’t do it; they’re stupid, they’re stupid”.

Their reaction reflects their unspoken belief that if Amazon can make them feel smart and Google can make them feel smart and gov.uk can make them feel smart then if they feel stupid then the problem must lie somewhere other than with themselves.

Customers right across the spectrum have been empowered by the world’s most powerful digital products to get stuff done online.  Government Digital Services gov.uk in the UK boasts an 88.8% satisfaction rating for the services they provide.  78% of the 800+ UK public services are accessed online.  Their success has gone far beyond digital natives comfortable on their smartphones.  They have empowered people across all ages, across all levels of computer knowledge and across socio–economic barriers.

Do you wish to take digital transformation seriously?  Then empower your customers to do business with you in a place they like, at a time they like, on a device they like.  GDS and the gov.uk team remind us that the starting point for this is making sure your customers feel empowered, informed and smart.

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