During the holidays, as many Americans visit and spend time with their extended families, those of us in the web design industry get a chance to do a little user research — with our own loved ones as test subjects. Sure, most of us have watched other people use computers and software during normal usability testing for the products and sites we build… but there’s something different about watching a family member clicking around that I think offers an interesting new perspective.
What was most interesting wasn’t so much how my family actually uses their computers (although watching Mom double-click everything was intriguing!), but what their computer’s working environment actually looked and felt like — how they organize their stuff on the desktop, what programs they have shortcuts to, etc.
And it’s the little things you notice: Half of my mother’s iTunes playlists consisted of only one song. My father had seven AOL programs running at all times even though he hasn’t used AOL for anything but email for several years.
Take these idiosyncrasies and differences and multiply them by thousands — or millions — and you have a pretty good idea of what we’re targeting out there.