Why Can’t They Just…?

I go a little bit crazy when I hear those words.

Why?  Because they’re usually the start of a conversation that goes something like this:

…”Why can’t they just [use the mobile website instead of an app]?”

…”Why can’t they just [change their font size manually]?”

…”Why can’t they just [open up a second browser window]?”

…”Why can’t they just [try that button and FIND OUT what it does]?”

In other words, it’s expecting people to behave rationally.  It’s expecting people to actively seek to understand how a technology works, versus simply hiring it to get a job done.  And that’s just not the way people function.

We take shortcuts.  We’re influenced by our environments.  We have irrational, emotional reactions.

(Earlier this week, in bed with a bad cold but trying to work nonetheless, I almost cried when I completed the first task I put into Trello and there was no satisfying user interaction – nothing glowed, nothing x’d itself out, no confirmation message.  I wanted affirmation, dammit.)

You see, there are two philosophies when it comes to building software.

“If we build in more instructions and offer training and shame people for doing the ‘wrong’ things, they’ll behave the way we want”


“Let’s accept that people will not take the extra step, no matter how simple or rational it seems.  Accept that as first principles, and try to build an amazing experience in spite of it.”

There are still a lot of people stuck in the first philosophy, but it’s not working out so well. Choice by choice, download by download, people are flocking to the tools built by people who live the second philosophy.

OK, OK, I have to share the absolute worst one of these I’ve ever seen:

“I can’t believe all these people complaining that our app doesn’t have turn-by-turn directions!  Seriously?  Why can’t they just look up all the directions in advance and memorize them?  How often do people really drive anywhere that has more than 10 direction steps?   Or how often are they driving without a passenger in the car who could help them read off directions?”

I wish I were making that up.

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