I keep hearing that users are stupid idiots alot, and that being said it is also used as a reason to have everyone's experience crap now and in the future.

For example: not enough options for things that would enhance the overall user experience, because it might allow stupid users to do stupid things.

Is user stupidity a reason for bad UX?

(Tried not to influence this question with my own thoughts too much, but: I've seen usability testing results in my days, and must say that sometimes the "stupid users" seem pretty damn smart when they nail/fail using a piece of software that's been designed by morons... ;)

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    This is a rant, not a question. Personally I would say that you develop for a target audience. If the target audience is a bunch of apes then geniuses will not be able to use the result very well. I think that is acceptable. Also it is not bad UX. It is bad UX for the wrong audience and good UX for the right audience. If you happen to be the wrong audience find a better product.
    – nwp
    Sep 11, 2014 at 14:27
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    @nwp What if the target audience is wide and includes both the bunch of apes and geniuses? Why is it so hard for so many to think about all the users and make stuff work for everyone?
    – Samuel M
    Sep 11, 2014 at 14:35
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    @nwp Oh I had almost gladly forgotten about the "half of the screen is grey" (and "the whole screen is tilted 90 degrees") people. Gladly our target group is bit more advanced computer users, but not in anyway IT professionals, but not stupid idiots either.
    – Samuel M
    Sep 11, 2014 at 17:46
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    They are NOT stupid. Accept the fact that you may have more experience with it and they don't. If you know nothing about e.g. maths and I'm going to ask you what x2 + y2 = a2cos2q + a2sin2q = a2 is, you won't know it. So you shouldn't call them stupid.
    – William
    Sep 11, 2014 at 18:17
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    I guess I can't re-word this question better at this time (since I'm drunk). But with this question I was trying to find some constructive feedback based on experience against bad UX that is only based on the phrase "users are stupid". Because I know users aren't stupid (ok a small percent may be, but not most), so defending bad UX with that phrase gets me disappointed on everyone else but the users. I guess quite many got my point in some way, since there's some really good answers here. My intention was not to rant in any way, I guess my wording could use some adjusting.
    – Samuel M
    Sep 12, 2014 at 17:43

7 Answers 7


"Users are stupid" is a programmer's mantra. I think it has persisted because it inspires defensive programming and defensive design, which is usually a good route to take. However, it's not true, and it's a little bit harmful. I think the sentiment should be broken up into the following better notions:

  • Always assume that users won't understand. This inspires interfaces that are safe, and cannot be used to break stuff accidentally. Don't call them stupid, though, that's just unpleasant.
  • Things that are simple to you aren't simple to your user. This doesn't mean the user is stupid, they may just have a different zone of comfort. I know of a physics Nobel prize winner who needed help to turn on his MacBook's "find my mac" feature. And even if they aren't smart, that's no reason to look down on them.

It can be really harmful to disrespect your users. It may stay hidden if you're a backend programmer, but if you design the frontend, that stuff has a way of coming out.

A good interface does the following:

  • Make correct use easy
  • Make incorrect use hard
  • Make common use-cases simple
  • Make less common use-cases possible

The last point is where modern UX design often falls down, and what your question is really about, I think. We strive for simplicity only, when we should be striving for a good power-to-weight ratio. It's nothing to do with smart or stupid. Some users are willing to invest time in your app in order to get more out of it. They should be catered for, but not at the expense of users that want to do simple things. Just like the users with common use cases should not become aware of the complexity until they need it.

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    I agree with you and would also add that users have different priorities and perspectives than the people creating their tools for them, and that doesn't make them stupid. Just as speaking loudly and slowly doesn't necessarily help a communication problem, dumbing down the interface doesn't help a fundamental disconnect between what the user wants the tool to do or be and what the programmer thinks the tool should do or be.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 11, 2014 at 16:52
  • Excellent answer, It's been seen that some users have no clue or understanding that behind the design there's logic that makes the magic happen. If asked "does the functionality work for you?", you might get answer "there could be more blue"... then maybe the functionality works perfectly, if all is missing is little blue from the interface? Good addition @ColleenV !
    – Samuel M
    Sep 11, 2014 at 17:53
  • +1 for noting that contempt for your users has a way of coming out. A disrespectful attitude can show up as an interface suggesting the designer doesn't care what the user thinks, or how they go about their jobs, or as one that is very condescending. Such an interface can be toxic, even if your service does exactly what your business wants. Sep 11, 2014 at 23:27

Users aren't stupid, they just have more important things to do than focus on the interface you're designing.

For you, the interface represents a lot of thought and work, and you care about getting it right. But the user doesn't care about the interface; at most, they care about whether it's getting in the way of what they actually want to be doing right now. They don't want to take the time to appreciate the interface or figure it out, and they shouldn't have to. That's your job: to do the thinking for them, creating the easiest, most straightforward path through the work you can.

I highly recommend Squareweave's video "The User is Drunk" on this topic. As the video puts it, "The user is fine, but with the amount of attention they have to spare for your UI, they might as well be plastered."

  • Thanks for the excellent video, good stuff. Users shouldn't stop to think that's true.
    – Samuel M
    Sep 11, 2014 at 17:23
  • I'd go as far as saying that users are 'lazy' - thinking requires effort and often they just can't be bothered.
    – PhillipW
    Sep 12, 2014 at 11:15

Users aren't stupid. They approach the application in different ways and with different expectations. One of the beautiful thing about the web is that one can get to the same information in different ways - one way is not necessarily better than another.

I'm pretty much an "expert" user by every standard one can give and yet, just a few months ago, while trying to fill out a task on a timesheet that I had never used before I was lost. I was given a direction to "select x" after entering my day's hours. For the life of me I couldn't find it. I resorted to CTR-F to find it -- and there it was - a fraction of an inch outside my field of focus.

Was my lack of ability to find "X" an example of my stupidity? No. I don't think so. I was one more user who, while new to an application and under time pressure, missed the obvious.

Now the "avg user" probably won't think to do a CTR-F but that's not necessarily a sign of "stupidity."

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    I believe Steve Krug is attributed for saying "Users aren't stupid, but they are busy." Typically this busyness means users learn just enough to complete their goals, but don't take the time to become experts in every domain.
    – Benjamin S
    Sep 11, 2014 at 15:52
  • If you think you're users are stupid you are on your way to being a bad UX designer. They just aren't you. They don't work on your website for a living or design it. Research and compassion for people that aren't you are some of the main tenets of creating a good user experience.
    – srgtick
    Apr 25, 2016 at 17:28
  • nngroup.com/articles/are-users-stupid
    – srgtick
    Apr 25, 2016 at 17:35

I upvoted Peter's and Mayo's answers and would like to add this:

There are different groups of users. One interface can't possibly satisfy everyone or be optimally easy for everyone to use. Do user research and determine what the common shared qualities are within each user group. That will result in data-driven personas.

When you have personas, you can compare their main points, goals, frustrations, and scenarios to determine what the primary persona is. The primary persona represents the user group who won't have their needs met by an interface built for any of the other personas.

To use an example: what end user would want to try to read a WordPress blog through the site's admin dashboard every time they visited the site? Most users who are not technical or unfamiliar with WordPress would feel lost seeing this, and they probably wouldn't get any value from the site. That doesn't make them stupid. The site they are viewing just is not built to meet their needs. They just need to see the site from the perspective of an end user, not from the perspective of someone who works for the site they are trying to view.

Similarly, a WordPress developer who wants to be able to control the PHP code behind a page wouldn't be able to do that as easily from looking at the site from an end user's perspective as they would if there were (or were also) a text editor in which they could easily make their changes.

So in that example, I identified two personas: an end user and an admin with development skills. These are both examples of primary personas. They need different interfaces (a publicly viewable site and an admin dashboard, in this case) to be able to get value from the site and to do their work effectively (which are different goals).

However, you can't put all end users in the same category. I've never seen user research tend toward that.

There are other categories of personas too, adapted from this summary.

A secondary persona would have most, but not all, of their needs fulfilled by an interface built for the primary persona. The primary persona's interface could be modified to also meet their needs. A separate interface would not be required.

Supplemental personas are other personas whose needs are met by an interface built for a primary persona.

Customer personas aren't the end user but are responsible for buying the product. The interface should be built for the end user instead of them, but it is still important to consider their needs. For example, if our WordPress site is a game for kids, their parents would be the customers who buy products related to that game which would be offered on that site.

Served personas are affected by your interface even though they don't use the product you are designing. For example, for designers of software used in commercial settings, the managers of people using that software might not actually be using that software. But since that software will still affect the quality of work that their employees do and the amount of time it takes them to do it, their managers are served personas.

Negative personas are who you are not designing an interface for. For example, if you are designing an IDE for software developers, you are not designing it for non-tech-savvy people who are not interested in programming.

So no, it's not user stupidity. It's poor design, probably resulting from a poor design approach.

Further reading:

  1. Are your users S.T.U.P.I.D.? from Boxes & Arrows.
  2. Stop calling your users stupid from Everyday IX.

From there, it's a good segue into Peter's answer.

  • Very good points, I totally get what you're saying. I've been trying to push towards user researches, since it's just battle of "users are stupid" against "the interface and options are not user friendly".
    – Samuel M
    Sep 11, 2014 at 17:34

One can be a trained musician, artist or a doctor but may not be trained to use computers. Not knowing to use a computer interface does not mean one is stupid.

They want to get in, get out, and move on with their own tasks


  • Most people make really bad surgeons, eh? Not so good with a brush or guitar either...
    – user67695
    Jun 8, 2017 at 15:23

Following the "users aren't stupid" crowd, I'll add this "but very many UX coders are quite stupid".

Programmers write interfaces they are comfortable with because they often have little evidence to the contrary. This implies "If they are too busy to understand the entire system as well as I do, they're ignorable insignificants". I've actually entered a group which actively held that belief "What do you mean a customer can't understand what 'Manifold Reset Override' is for? Why not?" After beating such folks about the facce and neck, there is some hope of reforming them.


Is there any reason for doing bad job which results in bad UX? No.

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