Posted by: Lars Oestreicher | December 14, 2019

You only have to…

One of my absolute favorite expressions is the phrase: “You only have to…”. Even better is when it is preceeded by the next best expression: “It is very simple.” Why do I like it? Well, it is such a good example of when a bad interaction design has to be explained to someone who has been fighting a problem for hours, and is done so with a (not so) small hint of that the person asking for it does not know anything about what he or she is doing. “So, the text on the screen is too small to read? Well, that is easy, you only have to…”. Well, if it was so easy, why didn’t the person who asked about it find it already by him- or herself? Probably because it is only easy, as soon as you know how to do it already.

The two expressions above have been around since I started my work within the HCI area but from my experience, I can say that in my world, the “stupid user” does not exist. There might be some “unexpected” user’s who do things that we have not thought of. But they do it as a result of their background and the knowledge they have. So, if you as a software developer haven’t foreseen that these users do exist, the problem is yours, not theirs. To produce usable systems is, therefore, a matter of understanding the users, their needs and their backgrounds and then apply the technology needed in order to create the proper tools for them.

When people make errors, it is most of the time not because of their stupidity, it is because they think they are doing the right thing, and the system has fooled them sufficiently by encouraging this thought.

Footnote: In this article I am not discussing people who actively want to act in a stupid way, e.g., just to make a statement. If you try to not succeed, you will most likely also fail in the end (or succeed in failing, maybe).


  1. […] a network, and even easier to protect the information that is locked within a specific computer. “You only have to…” is a very common statement from computer experts when this kind of problems are brought up for […]

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