It’s Never Just That Easy

A couple of years ago I was working for a small company with about 6 employees. I was hired to manage the website for the company but because I was the person most versed in computer technologies (and the youngest) I also ended up being the de facto IT guy. At first I volunteered for the position and I eagerly did the best I could to try to help my coworkers with everything from figuring out where their downloaded file went to setting up the company’s wireless infrastructure.

Before long though the extra duties of being the IT guy were starting to drag on me. I had underestimated my colleague’s interest in learning how to master the software and hardware that they used everyday and I started to dread each request which began with, “Do you think you could help me with…”

My responses to their requests usually contained two seemingly innocuous phrases that I see all the time in software documentation and tutorials. They are “just” and “easy”. So many times I have read that in order to adjust a setting in some software you “just” go here and do that. It’s easy!

I used to fall into this same trap all the time when working with my colleagues until one important day when I got a different perspective on things. I was working with a coworker who was particularly computer challenged and I was telling her that all she needed to do was “just” go to the settings and change X, “It’s really easy”. She thought for a second and then turned to me and said, “You keep telling me how easy these things are yet I really struggle with them. How do think that makes me feel?” It really stuck me then that my insistence that figuring out how to use software should be so easy was making her feel inadequate and frustrated.

So much of our software documentation includes these words in an effort to convince a potential buyer that a software is simple to use. Often times however the effect is to make the user feel like it’s their fault that they can’t seem to figure things out. After all if everyone else is able to use something easily and I can’t figure it out where does that leave me?

I think a better way to encourage people would be to leave these words out. If the software is truly easy to learn then that will self evident. Rather than telling people how easy a software is we should be introducing our software and applications in stages. Working out ways to engage people with the application in a way that provides a quick, positive experience which will encourage them to continue until they have mastered the more complex aspects.

If we can stop trying to convince people that something is easy to use and instead make using it easy, then I believe people will learn to trust the software that we build and sell.