Driving good user behavior

“It’s the customer’s fault. He’s not using the product the way he’s supposed to.”

What a frustrating thing to hear. Fortunately, when I heard this today, it was being quoted by an executive who was fighting the use of such statements by other employees within his company. He recognized the truth of things: if your product allows people to do something they shouldn’t do, some of them will do it. And if you don’t want them complaining about the effects of doing it, you need to change your product’s design.

For example, it used to be the case that car cigarette lighters (now known as 12V sockets) continued to draw power when the car wasn’t running. Guess what happened? People left things plugged in, which drained their car’s battery, causing them to be unable to start the car a day or a week later. Sure, you can blame people for leaving things plugged in, but come on… who hasn’t left something in the car on occasion? The better solution, which fortunately has been adopted by most car companies nowadays, is to power off the 12V sockets when the car is turned off. That way, the battery can’t be killed by a predictable user behavior. Instead of blaming the customer, change the design!

The Safari web browser has an option to automatically “open ‘safe’ files after downloading.” The recent Mac Defender family of scareware exploited this by looking safe and thus automatically opening for users with this option checked. You could argue that Mac users shouldn’t have checked the option if they’re concerned about security. But, really, why is this option there in the first place? Apple’s own safety tips page urges users:

Always use caution when opening (such as by double-clicking) files that come from someone you do not know, or if you were not expecting them. This includes email attachments, instant messaging file transfers, and other files you may have downloaded from the Internet.

If you want users to think twice about opening files, and knowing that an automated system will never be certain what a “safe” file is, why offer an option to automatically open files that have been downloaded by a web browser? It’s certain that plenty of Safari users without a good sense of what they should and shouldn’t open would turn on this option, and the outcome is entirely predictable. Design flaw.