An article in the New York Times the other day discusses a study that suggests that there are differences between men and women in how pleasant or unpleasant they find certain normal everyday activities. Apparently, for example, men find spending time with their parents far more pleasant then women do, while men disproportionally dislike home repair work (so much for the handyman husband!).
What caught my eye was this: Nestled between “Read books” and “Cooking” was “Computer use”. It says that 13% of both men and women find using computers unpleasant.
This is interesting for two reasons. First, it quantifies the technophobe demographic at about one out of every seven people.
But in the context of the other activities asked about, it’s interesting to note that “Computer use” actually ranks pretty low on the overall unpleasantness scale. Watching TV is more unpleasant than using computers! This suggests that most people (the other six out of seven) seem to think pretty positively about using computers.
This interpretation fits nicely with my belief that people aren’t quite as fed up with digital user experiences as the usability finger-waggers might suggest. People muddle through the difficult parts and aren’t generally aware of where or how they might not be as efficient as they could be.
But this doesn’t mean that user experience designers can rest on our laurels at all. It means we must be more conscientiously competitive, that we must try to aim a lot higher than simply being “not unpleasant”. It’s like what Todd Wilkens wrote at the Adaptive Path blog: that merely aiming to “be usable” is a low target indeed, kind of like having your cooking objective to “be edible”.
A good product must not only be easy to use, but must also be pleasant to use in order to stand out in a universe of computer products that, all told, apparently aren’t even as unpleasant as, say, cooking dinner or visiting your friends.
Naturally, since the methodology of the Times study is unclear, and since I am interpreting only a small fragment of the study’s intended data set, all of this is speculation and not solidly supported by this specific research. Still, I suspect that this interpretation is pretty close and that people in general like using computers.