It never occurred to us that users would exhibit multiple personalities when using applications. At least, not until we met Chip, an auto-repair garage owner in Lawrence, MA.

We were conducting a field study, looking at small business owners, when we met Chip. His business is a $2 million-a-year venture that employs four mechanics, a tow truck operator, a receptionist, and several part time employees. Chip's business isn't huge, but it is profitable and certainly respectable.

As part of our research, we were visiting the businesses and having the owners give us detailed tours of their operation. We'd spend several days with each owner, directly observing each one as they used the technology that helped them accomplish their jobs.

Personality #1: the Computer Novice

Chip's first personality came out as we saw him working with the software he used to keep track of the garage's finances. While using the software, he'd displayed typical behaviors we'd seen many times before.

He was extremely timid with the software. He'd told us he'd really only explored about 10% of the functionality, afraid that he would possibly do something hazardous to the data, the software, or even his computer. He always accepted the default settings, never customizing the interface, even when it would make his life easier. As we watched him use the software, it was almost as if he was continually checking with us to make sure he wasn't doing something stupid.

As we were watching him, it was easy for us to conclude that Chip was a computer novice. All of his behaviors-- the timidity, the fear, the way he opted for the defaults--told us that he wasn't comfortable with technology. We would have left his shop with that impression had it not been for our second session.

Personality #2: the Expert User

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jared M. Spool is a leading expert in the field of usability and design since 1978, before the term "usability" was ever associated with computers. He is the Founding Principal of User Interface Engineering (www.uie.com), the largest usability research organization of its kind in the world.