On the drawbacks of the overcompensatory user interface (13 Jan 2005)
Trying to outsmart your users is dangerous. It's dangerous when you fail and sometimes even more dangerous when you succeed. The fact is, users will make mistakes and sometimes they should be allowed to fall down as a result. Many systems would be stronger if they were built with more consideration for user failure (such as ensuring that the results aren't catastrophic) and less determination to avoid it.
The most typical automation mishaps are the result of assuming that the most common case is the only one that matters. If a user is 80 percent likely to want a particular logical progression, programmers are likely to automate it. Unfortunately, the other 20 percent of the time, this will leave the user in the lurch, very possibly confused and frustrated about what's going on with the computer or application.
Finally, give users the option of disabling some, if not most, automated features. After all, they're supposedly there to make things more efficient. I suggest that the default is to turn such features off, so the user can seek out the most convenient ones. This might prevent many calls to technical support. It also is a first step toward creating smarter users, or at least ones less utterly mystified by their computer's behavior.
Article URL: http://www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/web/library/wa-cranky48.html
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