Unless your application or website is very targeted to a specific technical skill level, it is a good idea to design for your least technical user.
One way of looking at user groups is to break them down by how quickly they embrace (or are fearful of) technology.
We call this the Technology Attitude Scale, and it looks something like this:
- Leading edge / early adopters – willing to try anything new. Ahead of the curve.
- Technophiles – facile with technology, but may not be as quick as the early adopters.
- Average users – have some positive as well as a some negative experiences with technology.
- Technophobes – somewhat or very tentative in use of technology.
- Luddites – simply not willing to try very much. Give up easily and turn back to analog ways of doing things.
Targeting the technophobes (some level of fear) is a useful strategy for interface design. Technophobes are more likely to use your website or application than the luddites (who you may never attract to your site or app in the first place).
What does this mean for the design process?
It means you should include technophobes in your user test group (whether online or lab-based). You should plan to include users who are not frequent users of the same type of site or app you are creating. Sometimes I have seen clients request that these less frequent users be screened out in the mistaken belief that this will improve user testing. But including tentative users can actually help you flush out the problems in your interface. When someone who is is more tentative stumbles in trying to use a UI element (or fails to click on something), or doesn’t understand how to navigate, it’s helpful to you. Correcting and fine-tuning your design to clarify it for Technophobes will improve your site or product.
Here’s the bottom line: If a Technophobe “gets it,” everyone above them on the Technology Attitude Scale will “get it” also. But if you design for an average user, a technophile, or an early adopter, you might fail to uncover problems in the interface that could easily be fixed.
Designing for technophobes isn’t the only technique to consider in the design process. But it’s a useful tool, and one that yields rich results.