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Click Fear

by Chris Smith

I recently read this excellent article by Jakob Nielsen:

The Distribution of Users' Computer Skills: Worse Than You Think

It highlights just how bad most people are with using software and websites and how we should not judge our users by our own standards and preferences. As I read it I thought to myself that I don't really know anyone with poor skills - everyone I know is pretty good at this kind of stuff. Later the same day I was proved wrong.

I got a call from a friend asking for my help on going through a process online. The options provided seemed obvious to me, even over the phone. They described what they wanted to do and then the 2 options on screen. The first was an exact match for their intention; the second something completely different. It made me realise that it's often not so much a case of not understanding what to do as being afraid to commit to it and wanting that extra reassurance.

Some people have a fear that once they've pressed a button that's it and there's no going back and they're scared that they may make the wrong choice. I've noticed that a lot of websites have "call to action" buttons with text like "Sign up" or "Buy now". For these users with the fear, this could be a red light - they will see that action as a commitment they may not want. Those of us who know, know that this is just to initiate a process rather than to commit to it. It might be prudent to be cautious with actions and reflect more faithfully what will actually happen.

There shouldn't be any need for this fear. Anything that can be done can be undone, or changed later. Well, almost anything. I can think of a few instances where choosing a username is a permanent choice but it's usually made clear if something cannot be changed.

To use a not-particularly-thought-through analogy, navigating through any kind of process online is a bit like driving around a car park. Whichever route you take you can always loop back around and get back to where you were. Worst case scenario - you can always exit and enter again.