I remember that “well, actually…” response was pretty strong in me when I first started building and shipping products.
I thought they were asking for me to clarify how it worked.
But what they were really asking for was for me to make it match their mental model of their own workflow.
I’ve been able to tamp it down for the most part, but I found myself accidentally slipping into it a few months ago.
A customer wasn’t able to download a completed spreadsheet from our dashboard, and I couldn’t figure out why.
I went through and tested it myself on my account.
I asked them permission to log in to their account, and was able to download the file.
We kept digging…
And it turned out they were using Internet Explorer.
Which, in perhaps Microsoft’s greatest act for humanity (or at least developers), they deprecated.
So you can probably imagine my internal groan and knee-jerk “well gee of course that’s why you’re having problems, half of the internet probably doesn’t work.”
But then I had to step back…
…and remind myself that they probably had a good reason to be using Internet Explorer. Maybe they’re on a work machine at a company that, for whatever reason, has not switched to Edge. Maybe they don’t know how to download a new browser, or don’t have the time or mental energy to devote to that because IE works for them.
Maybe they just don’t have a choice.
And rather than going into “Have you tried a different browser?” I simply sent them the file and sent them on their way. They’d already poured a lot of frustration and effort into this, and it wasn’t fair to add to that at that point.
I could have explained how we didn’t design for IE or how they should just download a modern browser. But what would that have accomplished? They probably know they’re using something that’s a bit behind the times, and don’t need another reminder.
Most of the time, though, this sort of explaining instinct comes up in less stark scenarios.