Most micowaves have a timer function. On my old microwave, I’d set the timer, then start it by pressing Start. I stopped it by pressing—as you might expect—Stop or Clear.
Then I moved into a new place with a different microwave. I pressed the Timer button, entered the time, and pressed Start. Nothing happened. I pressed it again, harder this time. Still nothing. Did I still not press hard enough? Was the timer broken?
After a bit I noticed a message scrolling slowly across the display: PRESS TIMER.
So not only do I press Timer to set the timer, I also press Timer to start the timer. Turns out I don’t press Stop to stop the timer; I have to press Timer yet again.
In this example, the functions that seem intuitive don’t work, and I have to be guided away from them to functions that seem less logical but which actually work.
Here’s another example: In Dreamweaver, when I click the button to see files on the remote server, I sometimes see the message shown on the screen below. When I first saw it, like many users, I just scanned the text rather than reading it word for word. I saw a button, saw the key words “remote files” and “click”—and I clicked the button.
Nothing happened. Finally, I read the text closely enough to realize that I wasn’t supposed to click the button that looked like it should be clicked. Instead, I needed to go find that button somewhere else. And when I located the button, it didn’t look like the one in the message; in fact, it was grayed out. But clicking it displayed my remote files.
If we have to direct the user away from what seems logical to them to something that seems logical to the programmer or designer instead, we’re doing it wrong. To use a sports metaphor, we shouldn’t be tackling members of our own team—which users are. Instead, we should be doing everything we can to help them win.