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Why I'm Over Blaming the User

Nick Nystrom
9/8/21 11:43 AM

You type, edit an entity, change the hierarchy, hit enter, and see an error message. Sigh. 

To err is human, so can we stop blaming individuals when someone has done something wrong when using a solution? When users encounter errors within a system, the last thing we want to do is attribute it to 'user error.' 

How many times have you used an application unsuccessfully due to errors? Vendors create solutions to address the needs of clients. In the case of Kingland, we aim to design software for how the user actually works, not the way we believe they work. We ask questions to understand their world.

"A crucial point in discussing user errors is where to assign the blame for the error. The term "user error" implies that the user is at fault for having done something wrong. Not so. The designer is at fault for making it too easy for the user to commit the error. Therefore, the solution to user errors is not to scold users, ask them to try harder, or give them more extensive training. The answer is to redesign the system to be less error-prone." - Nielsen/Norman Group

It's Time to Shift the Blame

By shifting the blame immediately to the user, we're unable to recognize the failure's reasons. For everyone involved in creating solutions, understanding these issues will help you design better software for clients and reduce the perception that you're creating error-prone software. 

This approach of blaming the user goes directly against what we believe in at Kingland. We take responsibility, uphold our commitments, and tenaciously work to improve and invest towards long-term value. Understanding a user 'error' is something we always own. Using categories of error types has helped me identify ways to help our clients. 

According to the Nielsen Norman Group, there are two categories of error types. Slips occur when users intend to perform one action, but end up doing another similar activity. An example of a slip would be putting your car in 'neutral' instead of 'drive' to move forward. Mistakes are when users have goals that are inappropriate for the current problem or task. According to the Nielsen Norman Group, a mistake example would be misunderstanding the meaning of an oil pressure warning light in a car by adding air to your tires. No matter how much air you put in your tires, you would continue to see the warning light. 

Techniques to Help You Do Your Job

People are often distracted from the task at hand. To prevent unconscious errors, offer suggestions, use constraints, and be flexible. 

One technique that can drive better usability is to include practical constraints. Limiting choices isn't always ideal, but in cases where clear rules define acceptable options, it can be an excellent strategy to constrain the types of input users can make. 

Another technique - offering suggestions - guides people toward the correct use of an interface. Suggestions can prevent many slips before the user has an opportunity to make them. 

Selecting reasonable defaults can also improve how quickly and efficiently users can complete work. For example, when a user sees multiple fields to populate, this can increase errors because they'll need to enter more information. Why not pre-populate fields with correct and appropriate information to reduce the hassle of clicking relevant choices. 

Another tactic that helps users complete their tasks faster is to format detailed information in an easily scannable way - for humans, not machines - because we're making decisions from an ocean of data. 

Helping Teams Find Pathways to Transformation

At Kingland, we can support thousands of users on a single solution. They rely on our software to not only do their job but keep their organizations within compliance in a variety of highly regulated industries.

These users need to manage data to make information work harder and use smarter technology. Whether transforming unstructured data into actionable insights or modernizing traditional data management capabilities, we design for true business outcomes toward our client's strategic goals. 

As you work with internal teams, try to remember some of these techniques. And for those of you who work with Kingland, keep typing, copying, and managing your data. We'll continue to build out great products and solutions that help you complete your tasks and make the operations stronger ... all without blaming you for a user error. 

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