Blog Post: Should We Be Training Our Users?


When showing off a recent build to our president and chief user experience stakeholder, I was privy to an interesting conversation in regards to introducing new interactions. The particulars are not that interesting, but it relates to some feedback we received in testing. As a rule, we firmly believe that user testing and sign off from inside stakeholders are key to the success of everything great we have released.

When he reached a particular screen, a suggestion was offered as to how we can really add some innovation to the interaction. It would be new, and not something we felt that our core audience would understand immediately. What came next was one of the most interesting things I have heard in recent memory:

“So what if they don’t understand. Make them learn!”

I was sort of taken aback by the sentiment. Based upon what my years in the enterprise space (i.e. the Red Tape Years) had taught me, we don’t try to change our users. Let them tell you what they want, then go build it!

As we unpacked the discussion (there were several interactions that fit this criteria), we had to look at each one and decide which ones we wanted to let the user decide and which ones we wanted to decide for the user. Each provide an interesting set of pluses and minuses and can pay off big time.

If you continually poll and test, your users will tell them what they like and allow you to be safe. Your application will provide an experience that is easy to pick up, share, and follow the trend that has been successful. At the same time, what is “successful” may not necessarily be correct. It’s just what people are used to. You could be leading the user down the same, incorrect path your predecessors have. 

Choosing to lead the way in a bold, new direction makes certain decisions for users. There is the opportunity for some user confusion at first, because could be expecting the old interaction or flow. You may have some sort of training mechanism to update the user, but there is no guarantee they will care to utilize it. On the other hand, you may be setting a trend that may be followed for many years. 

Many of you might be thinking I am suggesting the latter choice at all times, in unison with the stakeholder I mentioned earlier. Rather, I think both choices are valid depending on the situation.

If you fill your app with a ton of new interactions, your users may spend more time lost than exploring all of the magic you have designed for them. As studies have already shown, some user frustration may be okay but prolonged exposure to the emotion will lead to your work being deleted from home screens. There may be even enough evidence to suggest you wait to blaze a new trail.

That said, you can’t be afraid to try new things. Pick one “delighter” that is your favorite (and hopefully most researched) to try in the first version. If it doesn’t work, you can always have a mulligan and try again. Regardless of the success, you can then move on to the second choice and give it a shot. As always, make sure you measure well so your users can tell you what they prefer.

In the end, we must be pioneers of the future. That can’t happen without someone bold enough to step out. Just don’t do so blindly, or your users won’t follow for very long.


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