“Users think they’re up against a machine that thinks it is smarter than they are, and that is keeping them from doing what they want. Some could argue this is a design feature, that adding friction is a way of controlling the amount of interaction with customer service agents. But, the net result is frustration for the consumer.”
-DJ Patil, Describing the user experience of an IVR system (interactive voice response system) like the one that answers the phone when you can an airline
I am currently reading Data Jujitsu, a short and informative (and free!!) read on the Kindle. It’s by DJ Patil, a data scientist at Greylock, and explores many fundamental principles of data application in the startup/internet space. So far it has been a fascinating read that I highly recommend. However, when I read the quote above, I was compelled to stop reading and write this post.
I’ve been watching The Newsroom lately. As a moderately informed 21-year-old, never have I been so intellectually challenged by a TV show. Despite the events The Newsroom references taking place within the last few years, I am often lost and overwhelmed by the depth of content and analysis. I find myself constantly pausing episodes to open Wikipedia tabs, just to read up on these events, so I can be on Sorkin’s level of understanding.
The Newsroom challenges me, the audience. It assumes I am intelligent. It panders to no one. Because of this, I respect it. The Newsroom does not assume an unsophisticated viewer (or user). Rather, the show is made for a highly intelligent, informed one.
Many user interfaces, unlike The Newsroom, do not assume an intelligent user. Instead, they pander. They pander like an ABC Comedy. The pander to conserve resources. They pander because they are profitable, so why care? The pander because their customers do not have alternatives.
If the user interface is like the IVR system referenced by DJ Patil, which seemingly tries its hardest to hide customer service agents from callers, than why even provide the contact number? The reason someone is engaging in such a service is to speak with an agent, not struggle with an automated service!
Build for an intelligent user. Always. Even if doing so requires additional resources (having more customer service agents, spending more money on design, etc.) or slight compromises to the simplicity of your interface design. Allow the user to find the route that works best for their specific needs, and do nothing to inhibit them. Whatever your service, don’t inhibit the user. Assume they are smarter than you.
When a product is built that respects the consumer’s intelligence and time, they will in turn respect the service. This is vital!
I realize this comparison is a little abstract, but….I respect The Newsroom because it assumes my intelligence. The show is very smart, but the writing and depth back it up. An IVR system like the one DJ Patil describes comes off as wise and intelligent. However, anyone who has spent any time battling automated phone services know they are poorly designed and hardly ever yield any value. There is no depth of build to back up it’s automated functions.
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