Users Don’t Read Directions

This week I attended an internal webcast. At the top of the invitation was this message:

Which can be roughly translated as, “Hey, dummy, we know you’re used to doing things a certain way, but this time is different and we know that unless we put this message in big bold text with a big yellow backlight you won’t read it.”

Naturally, I scrolled right past the big, backlit message without really processing it and entered the webcast the way I always do. Which of course didn’t work, and which took me a couple of minutes to troubleshoot.

Thing is, a substantial portion of the audience did the exact same thing.

It was very disruptive to the beginning of the webcast. To be sure, the message could have been better written–it could have started for instance with language like, “Do not join the audio of this call like you normally would…” or it could have made the “Do not use the call-in information listed below” message more prominent–but the reality is that users can’t be counted on to read instructions, particularly when the instructions tell them to do things at odds with how they are used to things working.

If I’d looked at this invitation before it went out, I probably would have agreed that the message was sufficiently dramatic to draw attention. Even so, I was one of “those people” who couldn’t be bothered to read the directions; it was a nice reminder that real world users have lots on their brains and will miss written directions not for malicious reasons nor laziness and not because they don’t care. They miss things because there is so much competition for their conscious attention that our beautiful directions don’t always win out.

Better if at all possible, once users are used to doing things a certain way, to avoid exceptions.

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