“Users Are Stupid”


This is a guest post from Christine Ramirez, a UX/UI Designer and Art Director hailing from sunshiny Boulder, Colorado. She’s worked with several brands like Mercedes-Benz and Goldman-Sachs and writes about managing a career in design on her site.

Every so often, I hear in various different ways that users are stupid.

“Why are our users confused with the sign-up process?”

“Because users are stupid.”

“Well okay then.”

The problem with this statement is that we can’t move forward because it’s a phrase that places the blame squarely on the people we’re trying to help. As UX designers, it’s easy to forget that we work to create or improve systems that people use.  We push and pull on a design on a screen, articulate flows with maps and tweak every pixel to perfection. But somewhere along the line, we can get so invested in these details that we easily miss the point.

I’d like to offer a different context that aims to get to better solutions. Take some anecdotes of how people interact with designed systems in everyday life:

  • A previous colleague of mine pressed on her sleek Apple Magic Mouse in rapid-fire succession every single time she clicked a link or a button. Sometimes she would press so hard that you could hear it from across the room.
  • My fiance’s father does all of his accounting on the iPad. He travels a lot and has taken his iPad along for several years. Before he packs up his iPad, he always makes the extra effort to flip over his keyboard, remove the battery cover, and take out the batteries.
  • In New York City, I walked everywhere. When I came up to a crosswalk and hit the crosswalk signal button, I would hit the button at least five times hard and fast. I observed other New Yorkers do the same – especially ones that were in a hurry. I never questioned it.

The environment and medium in which all of these interactions occur are vastly different – one happens in an office, another happens on-the-go, and another happens outside on the street. But the above describes the result of a shared experience – the experience of being being burned by a failed design. And that failure of design – it only takes one – shaped our subsequent behavior indefinitely:

  • For my colleague, there might have been a mouse in her past that required a light thwacking in order for the computer to register the clicks. Or perhaps she’s experienced times when a website was so slow that she felt she needed to click on buttons repeatedly in order for anything to happen on screen.
  • While my fiance’s father was on the road, his keyboard input a lot of keys which caused the iPad to crash. When the iPad crashed, he lost all of his accounting information.
  • The first time I questioned why I’d go up to every crosswalk and rapidly push the crosswalk signal button was when I first moved to Boulder, Colorado. Unlike NYC, Boulder has strategically placed crosswalks that flash when you simply touch the button. Then I found out that 91% of crosswalk signal buttons in New York City do nothing when you press them. WTH?

In all of the cases above, habits formed because of a failure of design in the past. Despite the fact that I’ve told my colleague that she doesn’t have to click so many times or as hard, she still continues to be every mouse’s worst nightmare. Even after I’ve explained that you can simply turn off the keyboard and Bluetooth, my fiance’s father still dutifully dismantles his keyboard.


Are they stupid? No, of course not. But to them, no amount of reasoning mattered because all trust in the system was already destroyed.

Sometimes I forget stories like these. But thinking that something works based on our own “experience” as professionals is only a small piece of what we do as UX Designers. “Liking” a design is even smaller. The real challenge is remembering why we’re here and that we have a responsibility to build and take care of the trust that people place in our work.

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