Would you humanise a hammer?

User. Male. 57. Bank customer. Usability test of bank website. “I hate computers. Why are they so damned difficult. They’re supposed to be so clever, and yet half the time I’m left clueless what to do next”.

Interaction designer: Humanise the interface. Speak the users language; be intentional not instructional. “I want to move money to another account” not “Transfer funds”.

Developer: “Bah humbug”. (Well he didn’t really say that. What he did say was…) “Would you humanise a hammer?” “I want to tell the computer what to do”. (I suppose you’d like a command line prompt then). “I don’t what the computer to tell me what I already know what to do”.

Moral of the story: you are not the user. What you want, how you do it and the way you (and also the person who is commisioning you to write your code) do it is almost certainly not the way the end user wants to do it. And unless you speak to them and watch them you will never know.


  1. Sam · Monday, 29 January, 2007

    Not to nit-pick, but you’ve got a typo there: “money money”. I assume it’s probably supposed to be “move money”. Feel free to delete this comment, just wanted to bring that to your attention.

    Otherwise, great post! 🙂

  2. Robert Watkins · Tuesday, 30 January, 2007

    With respect, this isn’t about humanising the software. This is about humanising the business process.

    All the people intimately involved with the business process think of the act of moving money from one account to another as a “funds transfer”. That’s the natural language of the domain, and the business process. The developer has probably spent years learning to speak the same language as the rest of the business – naturally, they say “Transfer funds”.

    You also want to be careful here. What you are actually doing in this case is dumbing down the interface. “Transfer funds” is too precise a term – someone with a vocabulary of a certain size may not realise that “Transfer funds” means “Move money from one place to another”. “Transfer funds” is actually a normal phase that most people from 30 years ago (when they didn’t have ATMs, and balancing a chequebook took a little more effort) would be used to. There certainly is no “computerese” in the phrase.

    Now, there is nothing wrong with designing an interface with a target demographic in mind, and things like vocabulary size is part of your target vocabulary. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that there is no such thing as an interface that _everyone_ intuitively understands, and that you can easily go way to far in dumbing down the interface.

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