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15 May 2005
Please do me a favor: the next time you’re about to describe how simple a technology is to understand, think twice before using the analogy, “And it’s so easy, even my mother can use it!”
I remember speaking at a Web conference back in 1998, and I said something like, “The Web has changed dramatically since ‘94. We can no longer design just for each other. Our grandmothers are online now, and our designs must accommodate them, too.”
After the speech, I was met at the edge of the stage by an older women who wanted to know what on earth I meant by the grandmother remark. Was it older users, or just the female ones who were somehow unable to grasp our very clever Web designs? Then, she wondered if maybe HTML was exceedingly difficult compared to the punch-card programming she started her career with. I realized that I’d included the remark thoughtlessly, and said, “You’re right. I’m not going to do that anymore.”
The bigger point I made back then still holds true — a usable interface needs to satisfy the expectations of the entire intended audience, not just the technically inclined. But my example was timelessly inappropriate, ingrained by a culture that still clings to ridiculous notions that “girls are bad at math”.
I hear the statement all the time; it’s a throw-away comment we use as shorthand to refer to something that is intuitive and usable, but we do so by implying “those people” aren’t as smart as we are.
I’m grateful for the friends I have who are passionate about fighting this mindset – who remind me that girls often don’t get a seat at the keyboard early on. And age — any age — has no bearing on how we use and enjoy technology.