So you think you know what is ‘normal’

May 26, 2016

I was reading an article in the Sunday papers about middle aged men drinking too much. This was accompanied by pieces by people who drank more than 50 units per week. These were not raving alcoholics but people with good jobs and happy family lives that you might meet in the course of your professional life. They saw their drinking as quite normal and they did not feel it was excessive. I was quite shocked that someone drinking this much might think this ‘normal’ behaviour because it is a long way from my experience.

This highlights something we see a lot when undertaking usability testing. We encourage clients to watch the usability sessions and it is striking how often they are surprised by users’ behaviours. They are surprised when a tester can’t get back to the home page because a site has no home button and the tester is unaware of the convention that the logo is a home link – still a problem for a about a third of users. They are surprised when a tester does not automatically click on a hamburger when looking for a main menu – a problem for at least a quarter of users. They are surprised when users don’t use a site search – more than 75% never use site searches.

What this emphasises is that our assumptions about what we know about others is often wrong. We live in small circles and tend to mix with people like ourselves. Our knowledge of the broad range of human behaviour is horribly skewed by our own experiences. A 25 year old male website developer living in London knows next to nothing about how a 65 year old woman living in Wiltshire might look for a new rose for her garden! When developing websites we need to be aware of the limits of our knowledge about users and be prepared to rectify this – by undertaking research if necessary. This way we will be less surprised when someone else’s ‘normal’ is very different to our own.