Some Users Want Terrible User Interfaces

Dominique Leca:

The Bloomberg terminal is the perfect example of a lock-in effect reinforced by the powerful conservative tendancies of the financial ecosystem and its permanent need to fake complexity.

Simplifying the interface of the terminal would not be accepted by most users because, as ethnographic studies show, they take pride on manipulating Bloomberg's current "complex" interface. The pain inflicted by blatant UI flaws such as black background color and yellow and orange text is strangely transformed into the rewarding experience of feeling and looking like a hard-core professional.

The Bloomberg Terminal interface looks terrible, but it allows traders and other users to pretend you need to be experienced and knowledgeable to use it.

Via Chris Clark, who mentions manual transmissions as another example of people taking pride in being able to use complex user interfaces.1

Pride in their ability and job security are two reasons why people may prefer such user interfaces. Some complex user interfaces may also give people the perception of having more control. Another reason why people sometimes avoid simple devices is that they perceive them as being made specifically for children, or for "stupid" people. Or perhaps it's just easier for them to keep using the system they already know, rather than investing time into learning a new one. Daniel Markham writes:

Even an improved interface is going to have a learning curve associated with it and my assumption is that the people who are using the Bloomberg Terminal don’t feel they have the luxury of time needed to figure out how to use a new device despite its purported increase in simplicity.

If your users reject an improved user interface, you need to start out by figuring out exactly what motivates them to prefer the more complex solution.

  1. I should add that I also drive stick shift cars most of the time. And yes, there are some advantages. But honestly, for a huge majority of people (and I include myself here), modern automatic transmissions simply work better most of the time. ↩︎

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Want to read more like this? Buy my book's second edition! Designed for Use: Create Usable Interfaces for Applications and the Web is now available DRM-free directly from The Pragmatic Programmers. Or you can get it on Amazon, where it's also available in Chinese and Japanese.