Are we the worst kind of web user?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what a web snob I am.

Bad website design? Tweet about it. Difficult user interface? Toss hands in the air and refuse to proceed (probably Tweet about it). A friend’s recently released site not “up to standard”? Snigger quietly and feel superior.

I’m not the first, or the only guilty party. You only have to float around the Twitter streams of other online or web professionals for moments before you find criticisms and complaints.

But are we the only ones? Does our expert knowledge of the medium make us “bad” users?

Expert Infotech here in New Zealand have a shopping cart which gives you a “confirmed” message before the order process is actually complete. I bought a scanner through them recently and completely missed the final button in the process because I thought I was at the end – and the button wasn’t where I expected.

Expected is the key – as someone who analyses and provides feedback on design for interaction on a daily basis, I expected the button to be in a particular place and I missed it because it wasn’t there.

In another experience with a “bad” website design (by my standards) I struggled to find the “Contact” information for a company – I looked for something big, something in the footer, something on the right hand side, all in frustration.

It only took my “non-web” friend a glance to spot that the Contact link was actually near the top left of the page – the last place I would expect to look for that information.

Those outside our industry seem to persevere a whole lot more when dealing with a website, they’re not clouded by the judgements and expectations we have of a website – and lead perfectly fulfilling online lives.

These experiences serve as a reminder:

  1. Is “Best Practice" really best? Who says so? Do they apply for your user? Are you using your own preferences or assumptions? Challenge the rules.
  2. We all know how important user testing is – and how surprising the results can be. Don’t make assumptions about needs and habits, others may see the web differently. You are not your user.

As a web professional you’re likely to frequent many carefully and well designed websites so it can be a shock to stumble across something outside that bubble, it’s grounding to realise how small your web bubble really is.