Are You Designing For These Users?

NYC Library in Snow via WikiCommonsI have a backlog of magazines on my desk. I'm cleaning them up. Flipping through, this headline catches my eye, "Libraries strained by Internet use: Demand outstrips IT services budgets as people queue up to get online access."

What strikes me isn't that people use the library to go online -- it's that we, as designers, often fail to acknowledge this large user group.

People using public computers are often using stripped-down, tightly locked-down machines. Have you thought about these users in your design?

Assumptions that don't hold if your users are at the public libraries:

  • Your user can use a mailto: link.

  • Cookies can be set, and retained

  • The user can wait 15 minutes, or 3 hours, for a password reset/hint to arrive over email

  • The user can wait 15 minutes, or 3 hours, for an account confirmation to arrive over email

  • The user can wait 15 minutes, or 3 hours, for a receipt to arrive over email

  • The user can print a "receipt for your records"

  • The computer the user is on has a way to play a sound

  • The monitor can be set to something larger than 800x600

  • The user can save a file locally

  • Links which launch in new windows will work

  • Pop-up blockers can be overridden

  • The user can change settings to enable cookies, or pop-ups, or i-frames

  • The user can use a different browser, if only they will install it

  • The user has any idea at all what a browser is

  • The user has access to technical support

  • Your users are using your local library, so as long as you test on the one next door, everything is cool

  • The user can bookmark a page

  • The user has access to the site long enough to figure out a complex, slow system

  • The user has access to Flash, Quick Time, Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Word, or any other application/plug-in

  • Broadband is always available

  • The user can have access to a phone line while still looking at the site

  • The user won't be on a proxy server, and if they are, they can disable it

  • Sites with mismatching security certificates won't be blocked

  • The user will have access to ports beyond :80 (i.e. www.somesite.com:8080, www.someothersite.com:8081)

  • The user will have any idea what your error messages about any of the above mean, will have any way to do anything about them, or will even tell anyone there is a problem (many computer users assume errors are theirs, not the computer's or the site's)
A lot of these same assumptions will be true for users using work or school computers. However, I've been there, I know that management can be scornful of those users (after all, they are violating their work rules by surfing in the day, right? [well, no, that depends on the employer]), but how can you say that users who trek all the way to a library just to go to your site don't matter?

They've gone out of their way to come to our sites, can't we, as designers, come half-way to them?


adunn said...

This is a great post, and totally right on! We rarely think about the constraints that using a library or internet cafe can place on a user's ability to use the Internet.

It puts another thing in the back of my mind to think about when someone proposes something.


Yet Another Girl said...

Thanks :))

I love comments! Comments like this are especially happy-making. They keep me blogging. :D