You never call your mother

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Usability is empathy.

Empathy is the skill of putting yourself into your users’ shoes and seeing your product or service through their eyes.

Usability is creating a product or service which is easy and/or efficient to use.

Ergonomics is creating products so that they can be efficiently and comfortably used.

They’re all the same thing.

The people at Microsoft who develop Skype never use Skype to call their parents.

If they did, or even if they imagined doing it, they wouldn’t have put the call button where it is. That’s right. It’s not the blue button on the bottom right.


The people who built my banking software (which is otherwise excellent) never give people their bank account number, otherwise they wouldn’t have made it a tooltip that you cannot select or copy.

The web designers who made the ticket shop for Vienna Airport Lines thought they should redesign the button you have to click if you want to receive marketing from them. It looks like this:


You had to think twice about which option is selected here, didn’t you? How is that better than this?

Yes or no

Asking your users to choose one of two options (or three) from a dropdown list is a waste of a click. It’s making your users do something they shouldn’t have to do. Is that your aim?

Mr Mrs

While we’re here, why are you asking your users for their title? Do you really need it? Why not just ask your users how they’d like to be addressed. You trust them to write their first name, last name, address and all that, but you feel the need to restrict their title to some predefined options. That’s just weird.

If there are fewer than four options in a choice, you really have to use radio buttons:

One two three

The Microsoft “Sign in” button is the same size as the “Create free account” button, which is highlighted in blue. But the highlighted blue button is the least used of the two buttons.


The people who made this page were certainly not thinking about people who have bad eyesight. It raises the question of how many people with sight impairments work for Microsoft.

My bank, phone company and mobile phone company all send their invoices from the name “noreply”. I don’t mean the email address, I mean they actually call themselves “noreply”. One of my utilities sends its invoices from the name “invoice” and uses the subject line “Your invoice” (“rechnung” and “Ihre Rechnung” in German).


They don’t read their own emails.

To be clear, someone has set up the email address and specifically entered the text “noreply” into the name field, as well as in the address field. They didn’t think for a moment whether it makes sense.

They could have written “Your invoice from Phone Company” or even “Phone Company”.

Amsterdam Airport

At the gate display boards at Amsterdam airport, the weather at the destination takes up more space than the name of the destination.

There are literally two important pieces of information on this screen: the gate number and the destination.

The gate number is clear. The destination takes up around 2% of the screen space.

Did passengers at Amsterdam airport sign a petition demanding to be told the weather? Did anyone change their mind about flying based on the weather presented?

(The chap behind me recently was at the wrong gate. How can that happen? How many delays are caused by people not turning up to board?)

Sure, this all sounds like pedantic griping, and of course that’s what it is.

But there is a serious point here.

The population is ageing. People retiring today are healthier than ever, they (still) have pensions, and they have many years of life ahead of them.

But their eyes are getting tired and their fingers are getting slower.

If you make your product or service easier to use, more people will use it. It really is that simple. So why are you designing products and excluding parts of your audience from using them.

This doesn’t just apply to older people, it applies to all of us.

Usability is empathy.

Call your mother!