In User Testing in the Wild: Joe’s First Computer Encounter, a researcher for Mozilla encounters a 60 year old man who has never used a computer and describes what it was like to have him use a computer to search for restaurants using various web browsers. It's a fascinating read:
Me: “Joe, let’s pretend you’ve sat down at this computer, and your goal is finding a local restaurant to eat at.”
Joe: “But I don’t know what to do.”
Me: “I know, but I want you to approach this computer like you approach a city you’re not familiar with. I want you to investigate and look around try and figure out how it works. And I want you to talk out loud about what you’re thinking and what you’re trying.”
(I show Joe how to use a mouse. He looks skeptical, but takes it in his hand and stares at the screen.)
Joe: “I don’t know what anything means.”
An interesting observation was that the man spent most of his time reading and not really interpreting standard UI elements like buttons or icons. That's a testament to the importance of copy writing, I guess.
Hacker News has a thread about it in which several people are coming forward and describing their experiences with people who've never used computers before, as well as what designing and producing software for that market entails. One such person posted an interesting list of recommendations that you should consider when designing for this audience:
As for those best practices, here are a few examples:
- Emphasize actionable items with animations, and textual and pictorial descriptions of the actions that must be taken. Instead of saying "right click", we might show a picture of the mouse with the right button highlighted, with a "clicking" animation indicating the action to be performed.
- Use iconography and terminology derived from the subject matter or real-world objects, instead of common "abstract" UI elements. For instance, a light switch (indicated as actionable, of course) instead of a check box.
- Simplify user interactions and interfaces to the absolute minimum. Reduce the actions the user must perform in order to be satisfied. Reduce the number of options presented to the user at any one time.
In many ways, designing an interface for a zero-experience user is like choosing a programming language: You want the language that lets you describe exactly the program you need to make in as few instructions as possible. Likewise, you want an interface that lets your users describe exactly the action they need the program to perform in as few interactions as possible.
This led me to wonder if the UX community has any more experience designing for people like this. What kind of patterns and conventions have been established when targeting an audience unfamiliar with existing paradigms like windows, the mouse, multiple document interfaces, buttons & forms, the meaning of iconography, and computing terms like "browsers", "backing up", "folders", etc that we all take for granted?
Is there any interesting reading we could look into to better understand designing for this group of people?