Rate of Complaints„An hour spent interviewing Long Island Rail Road riders waiting for trains at Pennsylvania Station last week turned up 13 people, nearly all men, who said they had torn 22 articles of clothing, mostly pants. Only one of them had submitted a claim. Some men’s faces lighted up when asked if they had ever torn their clothing on the armrests, as if they had been waiting to tell someone.“
Sometimes one encounters the argumentation that an interface or a piece of software must be good because no one complains about it. The reasons for users not complaining are manifold, e.g. they
- don’t care enough to complain
- develop workarounds for their problems
- do not know where to turn with their complaint
- simply abandon using the software and get themselves a better product.
One should thus not assume that users who do not complain are satisfied users. If the judgment of interface usability is based solely on the rate of users who call the hotline to complain, one could be in for big trouble… It can be worthwhile actively eliciting information on satisfaction instead of passively waiting for it.
Self-Assessment of Competence“You feel more like an idiot than anything ... But then you realize, they could have designed it better.”
The first part of that statement hints at another reason why users may not complain about badly designed interfaces: they simply do not perceive a problem as being caused by bad design. Instead, they attribute the error to their own assumed incompetence. This behaviour can also be witnessed during some empirical usability tests. (“Oh, I seem to have made a mistake there.”) It is one of the reasons why obviously flawed interfaces often receive rather good scores in questionnaires and rating scales that are filled in during the post-test phase: users think that the problem lies within themselves and that they cannot handle the intrinsically “good” interface.
Therefore, data from usability testing must be carefully analysed and not every utterance by users should be directly turned into a design guideline. It’s an essential part of the usability engineer’s work to integrate data from different sources (observations, interviews, questionnaires across different users) to get the whole picture regarding the user experience and potential for improvement.
Bottom line: Silent users or users who express that they may be incompetent in certain areas should not be regarded as “seal of quality” for the usability of an interface. Grabbing into the “usability toolbox” can produce valuable insight to get a more valid impression concerning usability and options for improvement.
Regarding the tendency of users to be hesitant in expressing their (justified) dissatisfaction, it’s nice to hear statements like the second part of the one quoted above that illustrate a change in attitude: users start to expect quality and they do not want to put up with badly designed products.
Ultimately, designing usable products helps to put things in perspective for users and allows them to properly judge their own competence. They realize where sources of problems really lie so they can provide information on how “they could have designed it better”.
*The whole article is interesting as an example of including user-centred measures (too) late in a design process and the resulting costs.