Tech assumptions make an ass of your users

We’ve all rolled our eyes at the old saying: “Never assume, it makes an ass of (yo)u and me.” In the tech industry, however, the phrase is more of a caveat than a quip.

As technology is churned out faster than consumers can keep up, we’re stuck in an endless spiral of upgrades, new software and new devices. And unfortunately, these waves of new tech are often released to the public on an unstable foundation of tech assumptions.

Tech assumptions are growing by the second. They take for granted the simple questions. How does it work? How do you set it up? Do I need an account? They believe that everyone understands common tech jargon, like ‘backup’, ‘iCloud’, and ‘interface’. Or that consumers know that you can’t integrate an Apple phone with an Android tablet; that Alexa can’t play audio from YouTube.

So, why are assumptions such a problem in the tech industry, and what can be done about it?

The oblivious user

Let’s face it: many people have little to no idea how their technology works. They aren’t sure what tech companies use their data for, or why they need another new online account. Millions of us have only a minimal understanding of the complex code that keeps our smartphone smart, or the intricate webhooks that help keep our lives connected.

For the average technology consumer, devices just ‘work’. They don’t necessarily know how their tech works, but it does, and they can use it without needing any broader understanding.

Until something goes wrong. Or until a new release is rolled out, a new feature added, or a new update automatically installed. That’s the time when tech assumptions become dangerous, and can make struggling customers feel stupid. Nobody — tech novice or not — enjoys feeling stupid.

Why isn’t tech easy?

Using technology today starts simple, like understanding what an app is, or knowing how to connect to the Wi-Fi. But it doesn’t stay that way. Even the more tech-savvy consumers can get frustrated with the mess of tech maintenance forced on them by constant release churn.

Think about the nightmare of forgetting your iCloud password, for example. What about all the times you’ve seen comical social media posts about people troubleshooting their parent’s tech confusions? Or what about when your mum upgraded her phone… did she understand what a ‘live’ photo was when using her camera?

‘The tech industry is starting to make assumptions faster than anyone can reasonably be expected to keep up’ – Nilay Patal

The point is: what may be foundational knowledge for one person may be a world of headaches for another. Tech assumptions are coming thick and fast, and they’re leaving countless consumers in the dark.

Causing customer carnage

Tech assumptions are (obviously) damaging to the customer experience. When developers assume that the product is something that people want, you can end up with a great product that no one is interested in. An ‘if you build it they will come’ mentality rarely succeeds in the tech industry.

People just want their problems solved. If the solution doesn’t solve their problem, they won’t take the time to try and understand it. Many consumers just aren’t that curious about new tech, so the benefits of a new product need to be clear and understandable.

The problem is that as cool as new tech innovations are, many people don’t want to spend ages learning its every intricacy. Tech assumptions mean that people either get confused by products, or don’t use them as well as they could.

Tech assumptions

This confusion isn’t any better once the product is out on the shelves, either. Even once available to the public, a multitude of other tech assumptions can impede your customer’s understanding and use of your new technology.

As a result, your products and services become inaccessible to the less tech literate of us. For example, some of the more common tech assumptions are:

  • Everyone understands this old tech jargon

Do people actually know what you mean by ‘IMAP’, ‘32-bit’, or ‘auxiliary socket’ (for example)? Keep your instructions and language use simple.

  • Everyone understands how to set up their new programme

If you told someone to download something or to set up a new product, are clear, concise instructions available to help them out?

  • Our customers have various accounts and/or usernames (and remember them all)

Not everyone has an iCloud or Microsoft account. Some people do but don’t realise it. Some don’t know which account you mean. Make it clear if a service or product needs an online account, how to check if you have one, and how to set one up if you don’t.

Upsetting users

When you don’t understand something, you’re more likely to disregard it, to move on and forget about it. It can be frustrating when something doesn’t work the way you expect it to, or a product’s instructions are too complex or jargon-filled. When your users contact you for help, they often feel frustrated and let down.

So, ask the obvious questions throughout the design process. Ask if it’s clear how to use the product. Ask if it’s easy to install. Is there any unexplained jargon in the instructions? Make sure it’s clear how to download or purchase it. In other words, make it really easy to find, buy and use your product. Put an end to the plight of tech assumptions.

Useful links

Tech innovation: is our obsession unhealthy?Feature creep: is your software guilty? What is a user story and why should you be writing them?
The 4 software maintenance categories and what they mean for your users What’s the difference between a software upgrade and a software update? ELI5: Four fundamental pillars of UX design