Phil Agre: How to help someone use a computer

Alles, was ich zu diesem Stück Weisheit sagen kann, ist: „Amen. Amen. Amen.“


You’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a beginner.

A computer is a means to an end. The person you’re helping probably cares mostly about the end. This is reasonable.

The best way to learn is through apprenticeship — that is, by doing some real task together with someone who has a different set of skills.

Your primary goal is not to solve their problem. Your primary goal is to help them become one notch more capable of solving their problem on their own.

Most user interfaces are terrible. When people make mistakes it’s usually the fault of the interface. You’ve forgotten how many ways you’ve learned to adapt to bad interfaces.

Don’t take the keyboard. Let them do all the typing, even if it’s slower that way, and even if you have to point them to every key they need to type. That’s the only way they’re going to learn from the interaction.

Explain your thinking. Don’t make it mysterious. If something is true, show them how they can see it’s true. When you don’t know, say “I don’t know”. When you’re guessing, say “let’s try … because …”. Resist the temptation to appear all-knowing. Help them learn to think the problem through.

Whenever they start to blame themselves, respond by blaming the computer. Then keep on blaming the computer, no matter how many times it takes, in a calm, authoritative tone of voice. If you need to show off, show off your ability to criticize bad design. When they get nailed by a false assumption about the computer’s behavior, tell them their assumption was reasonable. Tell *yourself* that it was reasonable.

Never do something for someone that they are capable of doing for themselves.

Ich versuche inzwischen sehr bewusst, nach solchen Einsichten zu handeln. Einfach ist es nicht.

(via Tim Bray)

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