Brendan Enrick

Daily Software Development

Users Don't Read Your Text

A few days ago Jeff Atwood wrote a great post about users. This is my post adding to his.

I also develop applications, and user interfaces is a common topic of discussion. The interface of an application is one of the most important aspects of it. What a lot of people seem not to realize and Jeff nicely highlights is that users don’t read anything. Trust me. I use a lot of applications, and I avoid reading anything that is more than six or seven letters long.

If I have to read something to use an application you’re probably going to lose me. I am not here to learn your application I am here to use your application. Jeff shows this image as what a user sees on Stack Overflow when writing a question.


I think he is a little bit off here. Why? Oh I don’t know, because he includes the preview. I might look at the preview, but only if I am concerned about how something is formatted. If I don’t think I did anything complicated I don’t bother checking the preview. I figure I should be able to use this page while only really reading this section.


When I need to reference something I will find it on the page. However, the 90% case is going to be this. I’ll make a decision if I need to look elsewhere, and I’ll be annoyed when I have to.

I use Stack Overflow and I think the interface is great Jeff. You support standard keyboard shortcuts, so I can learn what they do and how to format them by only observing the editor and occasionally the preview section. When I need a list I know to use the buttons at the top. Anything that is a standard convention I will follow. You give me a toolbar of choices and keyboard shortcuts and I’m set.

I think it is most important to follow common practice if you want things right. I am not sure why people have such trouble with Stack Overflow’s editor.