// 23.Oct.2009

Treating User Myopia

When I said users don’t read anything you put on the screen, I was lying. Users do read. But users will only read the absolute minimum amount of text on the screen necessary to complete their task. I can’t quite explain it, but this kind of user myopia is epidemic. It’s the same problem, everywhere I turn.

How do we treat user myopia? How do we reach these users?

More and more, I’m thinking we need to put the [important information] — for new users only — directly in their line of sight. Nothing complicated. But at least then it’d be in the one — and apparently the only one — place myopic users are willing to look. Right in front of their freakin’ faces.

The next time you’re designing a UI, consider user myopia. You might be surprised just how myopic your users can be. Think long and hard about placing things directly in front of them, where they are not just visible, but unavoidable. Otherwise they might not be seen at all.

- Jeff Atwood on “Treating User Myopia”

Last Revision: October 23rd, 2009 at 13:47

2 Comments for “Treating User Myopia”

  1. Atwood is such a hack, you ought to be careful reading his blog in case it turns your brain to mush! Hehe. I will comment here instead of there, because I feel more likely to get an intelligent response! Notice how he includes the preview of the output in the frame or what the users sees? Nonsense! Having a preview box under the edit box is redundancy through laziness.

    Regular people don’t care about HTML, or a poor imitation of HTML like Markdown. They just want to type things. Notice how the text version the user wrote is formatted quite nicely, and yet Atwood is so determined to make his point that he actually says in the comments “that the plain text looks no better in this case.”

    He also says “Markdown is WYSIWYG — for ASCII.”

    Colour me bemused!

  2. Ha, ha. Got a bee in your bonnet Noah?

    I agree with you on at least one point, “having a preview box under the edit box is redundancy through laziness.”

    One of the commentators on Atwood’s article says it best, “better to do away with fancy features and leave people satisfied than throw bells and whistles at it and leave them downright frustrated.”

    As you know Noah, I’ve learnt from experience that you can “throw bells and whistles” at a problem indefinitely but you are probably just getting in the user’s way. Sure, the fancy features are nice, but they should mostly be optional - for the power-users perhaps?

    In the scenario that Atwood laments, I’d go with a simple plain text box by default. I’d let the use choose other options at their discretion, but plain text would be the norm.

    Chris Mear writes, in the comments on Atwood’s post, “except the plain text *does* look better. It at least preserves the newlines between items in the list.”

    Perfectly correct. As is this commentator, “why are you blaming the user for not realising that they’re effectively writing source code rather than a simple message? They’re not wrong. Your invisible compilation stage is the wrong bit.”

    “Your users shouldn’t have to learn a formatting language,” writes Zeptimius (sounds like a Roman emperor), and that’s right too.

    I could go on and on quoting comments here, but I won’t. I think the point has been made!

    I’m somewhat bemused myself

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