The False-Consensus Effect You Are Not the User

Imagine you got a speeding ticket and are offered two options, one paid a fine and two contested ticket in court. What would you do and what do you think that the majority of people would do if you thought that a majority would make the same choices?

You that is most would pay a fine if you chose to pay the fine, you are not alone. It turns out that this is a very common human behavior. It even has a name in psychology. It’s called the false consensus effect. The false consensus effect refers to people’s tendency to assume that others share their beliefs and will behave similarly in a given context. Only people who are very different from them would make different choices. These assumptions are natural. The human mind makes inferences based on one or few examples. If our ancestors were attacked by a new kind of wild beast that they had never seen before, it makes sense to assume that a beast was dangerous and stay away from it. Even in the absence of other examples. Much in the same way we designers, developers and UX researchers assume that people who will use our interfaces are like us.

We have one example of someone using the interface. It’s us and maybe our colleagues, and we make generalizations based on that example. We think only someone who’s stupid or coming from a different planet could actually fail to figure it out wrong. The real users are usually very different than those who write the code. They have different backgrounds, different experiences with the user interfaces, different mindsets, different mental models and different goals. There are not us by now. You probably have heard the phrase you are not the user. It’s become one of the mantras of user experience, and rightly so. It’s one of the most basic assumptions of the field of UX. What is right for us is not necessarily right for our users. We can judge user interfaces based on whether we like them ourselves. Only by testing and learning about our users can I create systems that are right for those who will actually use them.

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