LearnTop 10 UX Myths


writes on August 26, 2009

Photo of the Loch Ness Monster

Al Gore invented the Internet. Drinking alcohol keeps your body warm. You won’t get pregnant if you stand on your head after … well, you get the idea. Myths are those hard-and-fast rules that often start as a plausible idea or once-off observation that grow and distill into ‘common knowledge’ as they virtually spread. I know I’ve believed a few of these. I’ve also asked my UX expert Twitter friends for their UX Myths – and they have many!

So, let me entertain you with a list I compiled of my favorite ‘User Experience myths’. Then perhaps you, like many UX folks, will have some myths of your own to share …

Note from the Editor: Doug Bowman, Dan Cederholm, Jason Santa Maria and more, will be talking about UX at The Future of Web Design NYC.

Myth #10: If the Design is a Good One, You Don’t Need to Test It

"LKMMyth: If you follow usability rules and really think your UI through, you don't have to test. (@songcarver)"
If you're an expert there's no use in doing user research.'

This myth states basically that if you are experienced, and you know what you’re doing, then you won’t need to do any user experience testing. The parallel myth to this is that Great Designers create finished products in one shot, with less need to mockup, prototype or user test. If there’s one theme I’ve noticed when studying experienced and successful design firms and approaches, it’s that user testing is absolutely key.

IDEO are known to create dozens of prototypes for testing during a product’s development. Apple’s Jonathan Ive has admitted his love of prototypes – and you can attribute part of Apple’s recent success to their willingness to spend the time, money and energy to prototype and test everything, even their stores.

I’ve been enjoying the trend in the software industry towards SCRUM and agile design, where quick turnaround, testing and redesign are key.

One of the reasons why user testing is often delayed, or skipped, is because of a tendency to think that testing needs to ‘formal’, ‘proper’ or extensive. When doing UX design on software applications Comic Life and Skitch, my co-UX designer and I often approached random people at our cafe hangout and asked them if they would take a few minutes to try our latest build. Because our applications are used in education, we also asked teachers and students to use our try our software.  You’d be surprised how helpful an independent experience of your design can be, and with minimal expenditure of time and money. My one tip is to make sure you’re being clear that you’re not testing them, just the product.

Myth #9: People Don’t Change

Apple Preferences window with how-to trackpad video
OS X Preference window includes a how-to video on using the trackpad.

This myth assumes that the population’s understanding of a technology stays the same. I remember using an early Macintosh and watching the tutorial on how to use a mouse. Particularly how to double-click, and how to pick up the mouse and move it to the edge of the mouse pad if you run out of room. (I’ve seen computer users who would still benefit from this tutorial.) In its place on a modern Mac is a video demonstrating multi-touch gestures.

There was an early time on the web when everything important needed to be ‘above the fold’; the area seen in a typical browser before any scrolling took place. This is now much less relevant. Here are some more myths that are not necessarily true anymore:

Donna Spencer on twitter with UX Myths

My point is that there is a history of cultural change that you can draw on. “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black” works for a while, and then grows old. Soon, people that use what you work on are no longer captivated or mentally constrained by the newness of the technology. (Of course, I’d still love those mouse tutorials back, and so may your customers.)

Myth #8: Design to Avoid Clicks

“Everything should be made as simple as it needs to be, and no simpler.” Albert Einstein.

While we’re talking about reducing clicks, there is a myth, or perhaps it’s closer to an intuition, that the number of steps of interaction should always be reduced. But my experience leads me to believe that sometimes the result of an overly ‘optimized’ design is actually harder to use, and the user would have been much happier just doing a few more steps.

One example I’ve seen is the concept of ‘styles’ in word processing and graphic design software. Styles offer the powerful ability to define a visual look once, and apply and update it for many objects. However, I’ve seen users struggle with the concept and resort to changing each element separately. Alternately, they multi-select objects and change attributes in this fashion. At at guess, it seems the time-saving ability of styles costs more mental effort than the physical effort it saves.

Interestingly, the study of ergonomics owes much to pioneering industrial designer, Henry Dreyfuss. If you ever think you’ve got it tough in the new field of User Experience Design, find solace in the fact that Industrial Design was in the same position in the 1930s—and Henry Dreyfuss was at it’s forefront. And if you’ve never heard of Henry Dreyfuss, then you’ll probably enjoy reading about another influential Industrial designer Dieter Rams and comparisons made to modern day Apple products.

Also,  there is an interesting story on the work of another pioneer Walter Dorwin Teague when consulting for Kodak. In an effort to sell more Kodak cameras to women, the ‘Vanity Camera’ was released in five distinct colors. The iPod, decades later was to use the same trick (and with a very similar color palette.)

Myth #7: UX Design Stops at the Edges of the Product

Interestingly, the ‘Vanity Camera’ mentioned above came in a satin-lined box colored to match the camera. If you’ve got this far, then you’re probably also the kind of geek who’s seen “unboxing” videos posted for  many new shiny pieces of tech, and understand how appealing good packaging can be.

In my world of software, the equivalent of unboxing is often the download and installation of software. Popular Linux distros like Ubuntu seem, in my opinion, to be offering one of the best virtual ‘out of the box’ experiences when finding, installing and updating applications. This Ubuntu screenshot demonstrates the app installer; a built in utility that makes it easy to search for applications by their description, knowing that they have some measure of safety, pick one you like based on it’s popularity (for example), automatically check that your system can run said application and if not, install the necessary pieces, install the application, and keep it up-to-date in future. Nice.

Ubuntu App installer
View larger

The Linux approach, in my opinion, is the best of any platform. Other platforms don’t offer such a seamless experience; I’m looking at you OS X, and your confusing virtual disk image installation method.

From a services perspective: I’ve read that Disneyland employees make note of your car and where you park it on your arrival—if you come back dazed at the end of the day and can’t find it, they’ll happily locate it for you.

IDEO provides another great story in it’s redesign of the hospital experience. One of the IDEO staff pretended to be a patient, lying on a gurney with a video camera and recording a typical visit in it’s entirely. The result? Patients on their way to, and from treatment spend the majority of time staring upwards; confused, disconnected and disoriented by constant motion between rooms all with a uniform vista of impersonal ceiling tiles.

These are all examples of the value in the ‘outer edges’ of a user experience. Often overlooked, in both product and service design.

Myth #6: If you Have Great Search, You Don’t Need Great Information Architecture

Or, “If you have great information architecture, you don’t need great search.”

After years of battling it out, the best practice seems to be to always offer BOTH a well-fitting structured information space, and also great search. Search is not the sole answer: Dr Williams Jones, Author of Personal Information Management and key member of the Keeping Found Things Found research team discusses the weaknesses of a pure search approach in a (fitting) tech talk to Google.

Conversely, you can’t get away without having search: There’s increasing integration of sophisticated search into areas which traditionally were organized hierarchically or spatially. For example, the OS X System Preferences window is searchable in a reasonably sophisticated way.

OS X Preference pane with search field
Notice the search for ‘wallpaper’ that revealed ‘Desktop & Screen Saver’

Myth #5: Can’t Decide? Make it a Preference

So, from myth number #4 you can tell that the user mental model can differ, and there’s not always a one-size-fits-all. In my experience, designing what preferences your product has, and how they will be presented, is long and challenging task.

I look at it like this:

Every preference which is not really needed is a design choice that I’m offloading to all the users of my product or service.

They’re all having to do the work I should have, and duplicate work at that. I know in the designs I’ve worked on, deciding on just what will have a preference is a massive issue worth paying attention to.

On simplicity:

Trust is increased by caring enough to unburden the user from extraneous decisions. Working on Skitch and Comic Life taught me an unexpected lesson: when a customer/user has total trust and familiarity with a product they cross a threshold of use: it starts being used innovately.

For example, we once received an email from a user who had used the drawing capabilities of our little screencapture and markup tool to design large, real-world signage for a restaurant. Sure, Skitch was designed to output smooth vector lines, but this was not quite the use-case in mind! The lesson was that when a product becomes very familiar to a user, they’ll often reach for it first when trying to solve a problem.

I tend to think of it like using a screwdriver to open a tin of paint. It’s actually not the best tool for the job (because it has a tendency to bend over time), but it’s the first thing that comes to mind for many people to use, and is something they are very comfortable with. Similarly, we once had a nice email from the forensic department of a Police force who wrote to say how handy they found Comic Life to be for laying out (gruesome, I imagine) crime scene photos. The simplicity of the tool meant it was applied in many contexts for which it wasn’t designed.

On choice:

A few months ago my girlfriend went looking on Dell.com for a new laptop. She was so overwhelmed with  choices that she gave up. This topic’s been covered widely, but if you’re not familiar with it then enjoy the research and storytelling of Barry Schwartz who discusses how too many options can not only lead to your customers making no choice, but (counter-intuitively) resenting the choices they do make.

Twitter image of "@songcarver VTPG myth: "professional" always means more options."

The extension of this myth here is that “Pro” users need and want more choices. In my opinion there is some truth to this, but at the same time it’s a slippery slope to preference/choice hell.

Myth #4: Design Always with Implementation in Mind

when desiging an interface always keep technical limitations in mind

This one is easy to interpret as ‘dream up anything and have someone else worry about the building of it”, which is not the case. Instead, I increasingly see it as the skill of having a split personality. On one hand, ‘the users experience is everything’ guy, and on the other ‘how can we implement this with the most sensitivity and understanding of the building materials?’

Good reading: 37signals’ Ryan Singer on separating design from implementation.

Myth #3: People Know What They Like

For background on this one, have a read of Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely and Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive by Robert B. Cialdini — you’ll soon see the hard scientific evidence that our ‘tastes’ can be quantitatively swayed by external situations, environs or people. (By the way, the latter book is much more research driven, and much less cheesy than its title implies).

There is also the infamous story of ‘chunky spaghetti sauce’ told by Malcolm Gladwell (Here’s a TED talk where he retells the story) imploring that market research (asking people what they want) won’t always reveal the products they do want. This one is also easy to misinterpret — asking what people want is a great thing—it might just take you some detective work to find out their real needs, and imagine how to fufil and surpass them.

Myth #2: People Read

Short: They don’t. 🙂

Long: The thinking usually goes something like “If the user is confused, some text explanation will help.” Or you, or someone in your team will think that a dialogue box, page of instructions, or a warning sticker will help clarify a situation.

Chance of being read = 1/volume of text

OK, I just invented the above equation, but it seems pretty close to the truth. Eye Tracking studies I’ve seen from the Nielsen Norman Group highlight that many web surfers are only reading the links on pages.  So the point is to make sure that linked text actually says something, instead of [click here]. And that text is concise. And readable.

It’s not sexy, but improving the text in your site, application, product design, service script etc. can have the biggest payoff for effort. 37signals have written about the relation of copywriting to UX design, but I wish good copywriting got more coverage in User Experience texts.

In my opinion dynamic text (dialogue boxes, popups) seems most readily ignored/confused by users. For example, most users seem not to see Skitch’s popup help tip.
Skitch popup help tips

However, this small piece of static and useful text in the Comic Life interface(below) seems to work well.

Comic Life text 'drag these to your comic'

Myth #1: The Design Has to be Original

Truthfully, I don’t know if this one is a myth, or just a hard lesson for me to learn. I love to solve problems, to come up with the ‘aha!’ moment of inspired UX design. However, if I’ve learnt anything in UX design it’s that the great design solution you seek is probably already out there in the corner of someone else’s product or service, and they’ve done the usability testing for you! Look for ‘standards’ or memes in design, assess their UX suitability and quality, and use them.

Various power buttons with same symbol

And You?

That completes my Top Ten of User Experience myths, most of which seem to have just enough truth to remain popular. Or not—you tell me! It seems everyone has a story to tell about User Experience design and I’d love to hear yours.

Special thanks to my twitterer friends for their contributions. Photo credit for black Photo credit for black cat Photo:


Learning with Treehouse for only 30 minutes a day can teach you the skills needed to land the job that you've been dreaming about.

Get Started

119 Responses to “Top 10 UX Myths”

  1. Great article, great advice…all in the one place 🙂

  2. I find it intriguing that the Nielson Norman Group you refer to, who are supposed to be experts at usability, have the least user-friendly aka “usable” website that I have seen in years. It looks as though their site was built in the 1990’s and has never been updated. Why would anyone take them seriously! Really! See for yourself here: http://www.nngroup.com/

  3. Great article – Many of these have been confirmed in my day to day UX work!

  4. It is amazing how many users don’t read the text and just click links. I was testing one of my new UI’s today for an affiliate program. I was watching over the users shoulder as they walked through the sign-up process. No joke, it took them three times to successfully submit the form. Why can’t everyone think like programmers =)

  5. Keep it simple stupid seems to be a re-occurring theme in a lot of these lists. Why can’t we remember that when we design, or is it a symptom of appeasing our clients?

  6. Great article. You hit right on with the bar Apple sets with their R&D, I’m sure they have a pretty accurate idea of how their product will be received before it hits the shelves. This formula can be used for just about any product.

  7. Fantastic article. My favourite myth is that a UX Architect can be handed a bunch of features and know ‘the answer’ of how to present them. We don’t know the answer. What we know is the questions.

    That’s what makes us so special and fun to be around.

  8. Such an awesome article! My favorite aspect is that it debunks the number one myth of UX…that we know what we are doing! The real skill of UX designers is to be reactive and responsive to user needs using design as our medium.

    I wrote a blog post about the importance of learning from your current design and current users and would love to share it here http://www.dtelepathy.com/blog/telepathy/5-ux-tips-for-usability-look-before-you-leap/

    The thing that amazes me most is how unique every project truly is once you launch it.

    Thanks for the great post,


  9. I love that ‘Read Inverse Law’ and I certainly think you’re right about prototyping, we still don’t do enough of it and I include myself in that.

  10. It took me a while to find this article, but I’m very glad I did. It’s well written, entertaining and highly informative. I like that you say what you believe even when it flies in the face of conventional “wisdom”. I’ve been a software developer for decades. It’s given me the opportunity to observe thousands of people interact with all kinds of hardware and software. The user interface is very much a pet interest of mine. It teaches me a lot about thought and perception which I try to apply to my own designs. But, I digress. What I want to say is I agree with every point you make. Great article!

  11. Brilliant stuff. Stole your online content formula for my Twitter 🙂

  12. Hi Keith,

    You forgot to include the rounded rectangle enigma thingy :-))

  13. Intelligent, well-crafted comments ..bravo!

  14. Great list! Will share it.

    I’m not entirely sold on #4. As you seem to say, though, we need both brain hemispheres to “pong” ideas. We need design and technology to collaborate, not complete or compromise. That said, an architect who doesn’t understand material properties, and can’t factor in feasibility, including schedule and budget, will tend to fail. A designer without some grounding in the technologies that make the UI occur for people on the far end of the exchange will sell both themselves and the technology short. But, of course; technology is for making the design and interaction happen as designed, not the inverse.

    #8 is a great example of confusing, or not knowing the distinction between, the human performance side of usability and the desire for success. In an of itself, it’s a bad metric. Four clicks to a satisfying interaction is many times better than two clicks to a ambiguous or incomplete one. Two fully successful clicks works too, but when it comes to comprehensive success, clicks don’t count. This myth is from the flat www days. And, too, seems to be from a sort of industrial age residue. Frederick W. Taylor just won’t die!

    Here’s another: “Software = technology.” I came across this just the other night, at a gala dinner. Person next to me: “What do you do.” Me: “I design software.” Person next to me: “Oh, you’re a programmer?” Me: “No…”. My thought bubble; “Eeesh.” The difference is like that of a house as concrete, wood, plaster, tar and tile, vs. a home. A house is a certain configuration of materials. A HOME is its design.

  15. do you like famous brand of the world ? if so ,welcome to http://www.nikefox.com to check the
    so many and so cool brand .anything you like ,fell free to contact me !

  16. the real myth is that al gore said that he invented the internet. he didnt.

  17. fabulus article… it was very infomative….

  18. Very interesting read. Thank you very much!

  19. Nice article. I think everybody knew that people do not like to read. What was this about the package. I will disagree with the importance. I think in today’s world, especially in Internet we are having the opposite problem. A lot of people make a great package and put nothing special in it. How is this really important here?

  20. Interesting article, but several misspellings, e.g. “innovately” and “it’s”.

  21. brilliant article.

  22. Great post, thanks! A lot of it I already knew but very well presented.

    Re: the Skitch popup help. It’s indeed too much text. And frankly, it’s really hard to read.

    Why not have pictures of keyboard keys, e.g. in white, and then the explanation attached to it. It feels weird to give advice to an UX expert like you, but I feel encouraged by Myth #10 🙂

  23. Great post. Surely Jonathan Ive should be your example for Myth#1 as well as Myth#10, as he has indeed done some great stuff, but he did use Dieter Ram’s Braun product innovation and 40+ years of production usage as a prototype no? REF – http://bit.ly/applelovebraun

  24. Would have liked to see some research to back these up. Your comments were nice but in #8 they seem to have little to do with the clicks myth.


    The Myth should also have read: “Everything should be 3 clicks from the home page.”

    Much more specific, and much less defensible.

  25. Awesome post! Thank you sooo much for sharing such an insightful commentary on web design!

  26. Loved this post. Thanks for sharing.

  27. Great article.

    I think Myth #9 warrants more distinction. I think your point about cultural change is true. People get used to interaction paradigms, even if those are unlike the physical world.

    But there are ways in which humans do not change, like short-term memory capacity, reaction time, aspects of perception. These are significant constants, especially in highly interactive environments.

  28. I would agree with most of the post except “Myth #4: Design Always with Implementation in Mind”. In my experience with building web apps is that it’s relatively easy to pull off a fancy Photoshoped design and leave it to the developer to impement. The developer at times is given a design that looks really nice but is an implementation nightmare. This, in my experience, leads to a back-and-forth situation between the designer and developer both having to compromise on a design that’s both implementable and looks good.

  29. Nice article, thanks for great post!

  30. Hi Keith,

    Nice article on usability – many thanks for this.

    In terms of #5 I would imagine that including a search function on every project, is not always the best practice. Say if it just a small brochure website, including a search functional would probably over complicate matters for the user. However on a large site with lots of sections of content then it would be a logical implementation.

    Many thanks again for a great article! 🙂

  31. Hey Keith — great article. Thanks.

    One comment: I think I know why the little popup help text in Skitch (Myth #2) is ignored by most. It’s a list, but presented horizontally. Which makes it hard to scan. If it was vertical it would be much easier. (Yeah, I know, space constraints.)

    If it has to stay in this form, maybe playing with whitespace, alignment and font weight could increase the strength of the pairings and reduce the cognitive load?

    Just a thought 🙂

    Cheers, Martin

  32. Very thought provoking article Keith. I think another myth I would add, is that “you can easily teach a print designer to design for the web”. Where I currently work I am constantly faced with this problem, as management believe we do not need web designers and we can ‘quickly’ train up the current designers for the web. They said that design from the print medium can be easily transferred to the web, which is a point I totally disagree with. A web designer’s job is not just designing the interface but also the information architecture of a site. You need a great deal of experience to understand design, implementation, constraints and also possibilities of the web. I am sure quite few of you have come across this one.

  33. this is a great article, and i’m a big fan of plasq’s work, but i really feel the “ux myths” are spread by the 1000 other idiots posting their own top 10 lists instead of actually digging down and learning the trade. anyone who is worth their salary in this field knows this stuff already.

  34. Great points and I agree with everything except “Myth 2: People Read.”

    They do, actually, it just depends on the context. Poynter’s EyeTrack Study (last updated in 2007) demonstrated that when it comes to reading news stories, people actually read more online than they do in print. http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=62&aid=119843

    Obviously reading a news story is different than reading text on a website or app when I am primarily trying to find the right link and move on to complete a task. I’ve taken this to mean that people will in fact read when it’s the content they’re looking for. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t still present that content in a way that supports skimming and scanning.

    Take this blog post for example. I didn’t read everything, but I read a lot of it. Other parts I scanned. The layout of it made it much easier for me (love the Twitter quotes as lead-ins for each myth!). I had plenty of places where my eye could land and re-engage with actual reading.

    Thoughts? Am I misinterpreting the Poynter data?

  35. Michael Thorne on August 26, 2009 at 7:59 pm said:

    Text is a UI

    from Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, August 24, 2009
    “Twitter Postings: Iterative Design”
    @ http://bit.ly/SuvUZ

  36. Thanks for posting – I’m sharing with my non-ux team.

  37. Jacob Johnson on August 26, 2009 at 5:10 pm said:

    While the myth’s are good, some of the accompanying paragraphs is not.

    I was annoyed by the author’s commentary on application management, especially regarding his input on disk images in OSX. Using a .dmg for an application release is entirely up to the developer of the app, and has nothing to do with the OS. I understood his “overall” message regarding myth #7, but I’m not talking about the “overall” message, I’m talking about the specific stuff he brought up that I disagree with.

    Having used Windows 95, 98, 2000, XP, then moving on to Ubuntu, and finally OSX, I greatly prefer OSX’s method of application management, namely, the user. Obviously this is personal taste, but I hate operating systems that constantly want to “mange” my experience under the banner of “usability” assuming that I’m a dumbass. Applications are merely “bundles” of files and binaries that allow a user to accomplish tasks. OSX treats them as such, small bundles (.app-actually just a folder) that can be placed anywhere on the filesystem. To the perception of my organic neural network, this is the most logical and sensible method to desktop-class application management that I’ve seen to date.

    • Thanks Jacob for your thoughtful criticism.

      I can understand how you like the liberty to manage applications however you like — and there is certainly a feeling an ‘app manager’ brings which smacks of the same contraints of managing your music library via iTunes.

      To reply, I state that my opinion is based on my, and other developers experiences that I’ve talked to. Your computing history leads me to believe that you’re quite a technically sophisticated user, and I think there’s a tendency for the more sophisticated of us to want to manage our own machine. However, I see time and time again people struggle with the disk image type installation method, to the point of failure. The challenge seems to provide some installation-on-rails for the vast majority of non-technical types, whilst allowing more manual managing for us, if we want it.

      • Jacob Johnson on September 5, 2009 at 1:10 am said:

        I agree, for new OS X users, the disk image method of application delivery leads to some pretty horrific results—a friend of mine has applications spread between the desktop, the app folder, and everywhere else in between. It took all the self-control I could muster to not forcefully “fix” him and his “problem”.

        This is a two-fold problem. The first is conceptual, users don’t understand what a disk image is or how to use it, and often aren’t used to managing applications through the filesystem. Technically, end-users are entirely at fault for the mishaps that occur as a result of their lack of understanding—if you don’t know what something is, go look it up.

        Still, users shouldn’t be blamed for .dmg-based application woes, and expected to learn what disk images are. And that’s because delivering a single file to a user inside of a disk image is ridiculous, the windows/linux equivalent would be creating .iso files and expecting users to mount them as a virtual drive, just to access an application’s binary. It’s here that we discover the real culprit, developers.

        Generally speaking, when sending large files it’s best to compress them into an archive, such as .zip. Thankfully, many modern developers understand this problem and have switched to a .zip distribution method. Here, users can just download, unzip, and run the application. However, we’ve still not solved the original problem—accessible application management. (accessible to both end-users and power users)

        That said, I think this “challenge”—as you called it—can be solved with software that works across the technical divide between users. Personally, I imagine this as being an application that has an end-user experience like on Ubuntu, but uses the file system in the same fashion as OSX. i.e. A conspicuous “Applications” directory, with a special icon, and default placement in the sidebar, plus apps bundled in iconized .app folders, that launch the binary. In order to handle apps that are not installed through the app manager, whenever a new and improperly placed is first launched, the user would be asked if they would like to move it to the “proper” directory. The best part about this method is that it would be completely out of the way of technical “in-control” users, without crashing the party for beginners/lazy people.

        It would be like having iTunes for your applications, but with users still having a nice experience using filesystem management tools.

        Personally I dislike the idea of an app to manage my apps, but if the manager is out of my way, invisible unless I call upon it, doesn’t obfuscate the behind-the-scenes process, and is still friendly to users needing a little guidance, I think I can live with that.

    • Mahboud on August 27, 2010 at 7:24 pm said:

      The problem is really the Finder. This 20+ year-old metaphor for the desktop needs to be retired to the utilities folder. Right next to Terminal. They’d both be there when you need them or when the sophisticated users wants more power.

      The replacement for the Finder should be a modern virtual desktop. And I bet it looks more like iPad than Finder. But a lot more task-centric and less app and file centric.

  38. Wow. A top 10 list that was both useful and intelligent. Bravo, chap! I’m going hunting for more of your articles.


  39. Excellent post Keith!

    I’d like to expand on the “users read” myth. Through my research at the NFL, I’ve concluded that users WILL read when they need to. A great example I always point to is the thumbnail-title relationship, and how these two elements work together to communicate the content they represent. In most cases, users rely on the title to more accurately describe the content — and that’s because they need to. The thumbnail by itself, just doesn’t do a good enough job.

    I supposed we are inherently lazy; and if reading isn’t required, we won’t read.

  40. Carolyn Snyder on August 26, 2009 at 2:33 pm said:

    Good article, thoughtfully backed up with references and examples – thanks Keith! As a usability consultant, I run into 8, 7, 5, and 3 most often. I’m totally stealing your quote about offloading design choices onto users.

    I’ll push back a bit on #10. Despite making my living doing usability testing, I do sometimes encounter things that are so clearly better than their predecessors that testing isn’t warranted if it lengthens time to market. Or that are already based on a deep understanding of users. The decision of whether to test is a risk-benefit tradeoff that can be hard to judge from the outside.

    In regard to #9, people really don’t change very quickly, sometimes not at all. What does happen as a technology proliferates is that the burden of learning falls somewhere other than on your product. It’s a subtle distinction, but worth noting if it leads to testable assumptions about your audience.

    I’ve always liked what Michelangelo said about carving away everything that doesn’t look like an angel – advice that works for several of these myths. 🙂

    • Hi Carolyn,

      You make some good points—Even if the technology is not easier to use, it’s ubiquity means that you can always lean over to someone sitting next to you and ask how to perform some action. The traditional iPod interface for example, I think is not the most *intuitive* (it certainly performs well when know it’s quirks) but it survives well because there’s usually someone else around who can show a new user how to use it.

  41. Great article, thanks.

    One psychological aspect that always amazes me about User Interaction design is that shift in perspective you have when someone else is in the room with you, looking at what you’ve done.

    Recently I asked for some feedback from my flat mate on a promo video I’m putting together for my product. As soon as I played the video, I felt totally different and the only change was he was in the room with me. I cringed through the whole thing, and knew what he was going to say before he even said it.

    Sometimes it’s not even necessary for someone to actually even use what you’ve made – the flaws become apparent so quickly that all they need to do is sit and look at your interface.

    I’d love to know more about the psychological principles involved in this and ways we can leverage this empathy to make even better products.

    • Hi John — interesting idea. I *think* it was in ‘Yes!-the psychology of Influence’ by Cialdini that talks about an experiment where kids were told to take one, and only one candy from the bowl, then left unsupervised. The experimenters watched them from afar, and noted how the kids decisions to take the instructed amount, or more, was influenced by factors such as having a mirror in the room (which much lessened the act of greedily grabbing more candy) or even something as simple as a painting of a pair of eyes (also lessening the kids decision to act on greedy impulses)

      Maybe we could replace some user testing with a cardboard cut-out of a user 🙂

  42. Great post.

    I mostly agree with Myth #2 (People Don’t Read) and always practiced design with the idea that if a UI relies on text, it’s a failure. However, recently I noticed (over and over again) that most usability test participants DO read the text on the screen (in my case a persistent message area at the top of a touch screen) ONLY after they have tried everything else. In other words, if they get stuck, they read.

    That still says, don’t rely on the text but when you do have text, it better be helpful.

  43. Some decent points, Keith. I definitely agree that reinventing established design patterns is usually a path to disaster first and redesign second.

    I think it would do a service to @maadonna that you’re quoting her tweets in response to you asking for myths. Right now it looks like Donna is authoritatively stating a myth that most of us now has been debunked (since some people prefaced their tweets with “myth:”). Or maybe it’s me, but I read it a few times and it looks like it could be misunderstood.

    I’m not certain everyone agrees applications and sites have to be tested or involve user testing, at the expense of verifiable user data or task & goal modeling. I don’t subscribe to that entirely, but sometimes you have to test live and “in the wild” rather than going down to a local coffee shop to get people to test an application, or renting space with a two-way mirror.

  44. Thought-provoking stuff. It’s all too clear to us in the travel industry that a) visitors don’t read more than the first few lines and b) they love clicking on links or emailing questions to which the answers are clearly included in the text.

    But, as your article points out, it’s not the visitors who are dumb … it’s us, the designers

  45. Nice article, retweet from me. Some very good points to bear in mind there.
    The use of the power button in the number one myth was an excellent choice – why reinvent the wheel when users are expecting certain obvious choices?

  46. Hey Keith, that’s a great article. I like them all but Myth #5 stood out to me. Sometimes we can want to throw extra stuff in just for the sake of having it there. I say give users exactly what they need to use your product purposefully, and maybe just a little more to keep the “wow I didn’t know I could do that” feeling available.

    About Myth #1… Really? You mean we don’t always have to recreate the wheel? ha… 😉

  47. Thanks guys for the nice words 🙂

    If you have any User Experience myths to share then I’d love to hear them!

  48. Myth 10, Myth 2 and Myth 1 resonate with me. You need to test early and test often, no one ever reads copy and there is nothing wrong with sticking to conventions.

  49. Really excellent stuff, I always try to put a huge amount of thought into the textual content of any design I do, keeping it as concise as possible, maintaining the use of friendly language, cramming it full of facts and making it entertaining to read are what I feel to be the real keys.

    Thanks for the insight, some great things to think about.


  50. Great Article …. but am i the only person that does read!! lol

  51. Nice article – some great points made!

  52. A different article, and it was informative .

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

man working on his laptop

Are you ready to start learning?

Learning with Treehouse for only 30 minutes a day can teach you the skills needed to land the job that you've been dreaming about.

Start a Free Trial
woman working on her laptop