It’s a cliché (or at least a TVTrope) that if you want to know what’s really going on in an organization, you talk to the janitors—or other people who have the same habit of being around all the time, observing people and things, without being noticed.
In my current “day job” working for a tech support corporation, I’ve noticed a similar truism: If you want to know what’s really going on in the way people relate to technology, you talk to the tech support.
Over the last few months, I’ve noticed a number of interesting patterns pop up in the calls I get: a surprising number of them are about the same sorts of issues. Many different people just seem to have trouble with the same sorts of things. As I’ve observed before, these aren’t stupid people, much as tech support humor likes to paint them that way. They’re people who have better things to do than geek out over technology, so they lack the tools necessary to figure things out. And certain aspects of technology continue to be designed in ways that puzzle these average people.
Back when I was in the computer tech support division, I observed a remarkable number of calls coming from people who had somehow managed to turn their laptop wifi off by accident. Switches or buttons were too easy to bump without noticing it, and when this happened Windows failed to explain to its users what had happened in a way they could understand.
Now that I’m supporting Internet-connected TVs and Blu-Ray players, I’m noticing similar patterns. Perhaps my most oft-heard call is from someone having trouble hooking his TV or Blu-Ray player up to wifi to watch Netflix—not so much that they couldn’t do it, but that they just couldn’t navigate the menus on their TVs or understand what things meant.
I honestly think that the world would be a lot better off if people who designed user interfaces for devices had to spend a few months providing telephone technical support for the sorts of devices they design. This way they would learn first-hand what gives people the most problems, and be able to incorporate that into their future designs. I know that I’ve already learned a lot more about the worst design aspects of computers, TVs, and DVD players than I ever expected to know.
I would really like to get the perspective of someone who works in e-book tech support—for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, or other popular e-readers. I think it would be a great way to learn what parts of e-reading really give the most people trouble. (If any such person would care to talk to me, I promise I’ll keep your identity secret to protect your job!)