Why doesn’t it Work that Way?

Whether you’re developing software or shampoo, first and foremost in your mind should be the end user. 

End users are the people ultimately get to decide whether of not your product is a success of not. So you better make sure your product delivers what all but the most demanding end users need. With this in mind developers will often consult with experts or expert users during the design process.

Some developers can be quite rigorous about the whole thing. I’ve worked with clients who produce tomes full of use cases and scenarios before even a single line of code was written or a single product sketch was made. Such a process ultimately yields an impressive set of functional designs augmented by lengthy lists of criteria and design specifications. In one case they even named they resulting set of bulky documents an encyclopedia.

I have no doubt in my mind that expert input (or their intervention) should play an important role in product development. Experts and expert users are knowledgeable people and their input should not be taken lightly, right?


Yet, there is at least one group of people we are overlooking here. It’s the stupid users. Stupid users can be little treasure troves for innovators. I’ll give you two examples of stupid people. My two year old son and my sixty four year old mom.

Both have about the same level of proficiency with high tech electronics (actually I believe my two year old is gaining the upper hand by now).

Just observing them use a computer for a few minutes is a feast for the imagination. My son, Caspar, routinely tries to watch youtube video’s by pressing his chocolaty index finger on the screen of my MacBook much in the same he performs this operation on my Iphone. You can almost hear him think: “Why doesn’t it work that way?”

The other day I saw my mom (after some struggling with the mouse) try to ’stack’ a set of pictures and documents on her PC’s desktop. It’s what you do in real life isn’t it? You make little stacks of stuff that belongs together and put them on your desk perhaps with a sticky note on it to remind you what the stack is for. There’s no reason it should not work that way on your virtual desktop.

I’m sure that the experts could come up with this idea as well (check Anand Garwala’s Bump Top). But (and this is a big ‘but’) they will also already know how you should perform such an operation on a computer: you first create a folder and then put the documents in there. In their expert mind there is no real need to be able to create stacks on your desktop because there are other solutions available. To them an alternative solution would be just a gimmick.

To many developers the fact that stupid users do not use their product the way they should can be annoying. (“they need more training!’ or ‘we need to write a better manual!”) To my mom (and little Caspar) the fact that stupid products do not work the way they should can be a big source of frustration. To me it seems their ’stupidity’ can be a big (and too often overlooked) source of inspiration and innovation.

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