Typical Novice Computer User or Dolt?

img3c9ccf432e642.jpg“I’m Not a Dolt”

Recently I was entertained/appalled by a story on Folklore.org. Folklore.org is the recollections of Andy Hertzfeld, a member of the Apple team that developed the original Macintosh. Most of them are really funny and this one is no exception. Before the Macintosh, there was the Apple computer model called the Lisa. Some tests were set up with average users in which they were put in a room together with a moderator, shown the basics of the OS and how to use the mouse (this was the early 80’s by the way) and then given the task of editing some text and then saving it:

The moderator encouraged each user to mumble under her breath while doing the tasks, revealing her current thinking as much as possible. Each session was audio or videotaped for later analysis.

When the software required confirmation from the user, it displayed a small window called a “dialog box”, that contained a question, and presented two buttons, for positive or negative confirmation. The buttons were labeled “Do It” and “Cancel”. The designers observed that a few users seemed to stumble at the point that the dialog was displayed, clicking “Cancel” when they should have clicked “Do It”, but it wasn’t clear what they were having trouble with.

Finally, the team noticed one user that was particularly flummoxed by the dialog box, who even seemed to be getting a bit angry. The moderator interrupted the test and asked him what the problem was. He replied, “I’m not a dolt, why is the software calling me a dolt?”

It turns out he wasn’t noticing the space between the ‘o’ and the ‘I’ in ‘Do It’…a capital ‘I’ looked very much like a lower case ‘l’, so he was reading ‘Do It’ as ‘Dolt’ and was therefore kind of offended.

After a bit of consideration, we switched the positive confirmation button label to ‘OK’ (which was initially avoided, because we thought it was too colloquial), and from that point on people seemed to have fewer problems.


Are These Really the Test Subjects We Want?

I know that Microsoft and Apple (and many other software and hardware companies) have gone to great measures to make the personal computer accessible to Everyman. To do so they would certainly have to cater to the lowest common denominator. However, as a friend of mine has pointed out, “there is a difference between Everyman and Everymoron.” We have a clear example of why “Do Not Operate While In Shower” labels must be attached to hair dryers.

So for these tests, computer manufacturers may want to filter the folks who are chosen. Certainly they don’t want the best and the brightest to take these tests. They need to know that even inexperienced novices can easily use their products. But perhaps they would be interested in test subjects who have an IQ higher than, say, a stick of gum.

I Smell a Business Venture

So I am here to offer my services to Apple, Microsoft, Dell and the rest. I have come up with a great questionnaire that will allow you to find some run-of-the-mill computer novices, while weeding out any Jerry Springer audience members who scored a 3 on their SAT that might show up. I have included a sample for you to review.

XYZ Computer Company:
User Experience Test Questionnaire

Education Level: (please circle one)
a) College b) High School c) Kindergarten d) What does e-d-u-c-a-t-i-o-n spell?

1) Have you, or any member of your family, ever used a hair dryer in the shower?
2) Have you ever fallen for the “is your refrigerator running?” prank call?
3) Can you perform basic math computations such as 1 +1?
4) Can you spell “math”? (*hint* the answer is somewhere on this questionnaire)
5) Have you ever watched and/or enjoyed any episode of Fox’s the O.C.?
6) Did the movie “Dude, Where’s My Car?” hit a little too close to home for you?
7) Have you ever been to a taping of the Jerry Springer Show?

Remember, this is merely a sampling of the great battery of questions that I have developed to help your company perform productive, conclusive user experience tests. You can contact me through this site and we can discuss my fee.

Josh H.


5 Responses to “Typical Novice Computer User or Dolt?”

  1. 1 kev
    April 12, 2007 at 9:14 am

    Highly entertaining, my friend. Even better, you’re providing a valuable service to society! However, I should point out that you are being very insensitive to sticks of gum by comparing them to the “dolt” guy. I would expect a phone call from Al Sharpton any minute, if I were you.

    By the way, I would like to shake the hand of your friend who noted the difference between “Everyman” and “Everymoron.” He sounds like an intelligent, articulate, and handsome human being.

  2. 2 kev
    April 17, 2007 at 10:14 am

    You’ve hit a nerve, Josh. People are afraid to leave a comment.

  3. April 17, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    yeah, I figured that’s what happened. They’re all chicken (or may they’re all on MySpace…DOH!)

  4. April 17, 2007 at 10:52 pm

    Ok, I’ll comment. I’m not afraid 😉 I have just been thinking how fun it would be to start using the word “Dolt” as an insult. Someone does something that isn’t the brightest, and you say, “What are you thinking, you dolt!” It just has a classic sound to it, don’t you think?

  5. 5 kev
    April 18, 2007 at 10:35 am

    Yes, very classic. I’m about to go to the DMV. I wonder if I’ll get the chance to try out this new “dolt” insult…

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