“Dumb blondes” and Usability

People pick on blondes for being dumb. I grew up a toe-headed blonde, so, yes, I got all the jokes.

I’ve always had a severe dislike for jargon. It smacks of elitist exclusion.

Two prejudices that now work to my advantage.

I had a boss back in the day that explained to me the tipping point for hiring me – if I can explain fuel cells to fifth graders, surely I can explain mortgages to just about anyone. No, I don’t have a magical understanding of all things. I had some pretty knock-down, drag-out fights with my chemist friend as I tried to understand something about recycling plastics.

I am driven to deconstruction by my desire to know why. How. Leave no person left behind. Never assume a class of people can’t understand something. My current boss asks me to create documentation on processes all the time. “You know, like you do so well.” Is it a gift? Or fed up with others assuming I can’t possibly understand this? Yup. A bit of determination to prove people wrong.

I work for a financial company now. My colleague, Deb, had the same fear I did when starting this job – I’m not a finance person! How is this going to work? It does, because we both ask a lot of questions. Sure, it’s annoying for the seasoned veterans, but we manage to catch things. Assumptions. Doing it the way we’ve always done it. Little typos.

I’d like to think this excruciating trait of having to explain things in plain English is a benefit. However, there’s beating a dead horse, and the value of shared meaning can’t be denied. In the end, it’s a balance between being helpful to the newbie and being efficient for the veteran – clarity.



2 responses to ““Dumb blondes” and Usability

  1. I’m an Instructional Designer, and I spend my life being the “dumb guy” in the room. I come into a situation knowing little to nothing about whatever it is, and work with experts on the topic. My biggest skill is asking questions and saying “huh” over and over, until I’ve identified what it is that people don’t know about the subject — and what they need to learn.

    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with not knowing “how we’ve always done it”. There should have been one of us on the bridge of the Titanic.

  2. christysherman

    Hah! The Titanic is a *perfect* example of “how we’ve always done it,” combined with, “let’s try this really cool, new idea” without asking the right questions. This is why I love the “seven whys” concept. Keep asking “why?” at least seven times.

    And, yes, had I had a little less caffeine this morning, I might have written the same paragraph you did on being the “dumb person” in the room. That’s exactly how we do it.

    Thanks, Mr. Carlson! Long time, no talk!

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