How do you want to treat your users and customers? As grown-ups and your job is to get their job done? Or do you think you need to guide them step by step? Agreed, this is more like a rhetorical question (to me). The thing is, that the former is either amazing when experienced or so good that you don't even notice. And the latter always annoys me or makes me angry. Let me give you some examples.

I'm writing this on an old mid-2012 MacBook Air. On my bedside table, there's a venerable iPad 3. Both introduced me to macOS or iOS, respectively. And after 9 years, I still sometimes think "it can't simply be to just , can it...?" and that weird chevron thing to change directories in the file picker reliably annoys me. Both operating systems are great to simply get things done and still I miss something: expert mode. Give me the option to take back control over things instead of stubbornly hiding everything from me. (Yes, I love the terminal.)

Let's look at a web example. At OS level, my language settings are German. So is my browser UI, with the preferred language to display websites set to English. And when in France, Google search results are displayed in French. Because, why not?!? To change this, I have to find the regional settings in Google search. In addition, when I want German and English search results, there's another setting to change the language for those. When I want to filter results for a specific language, I have only two options: "any language" or "German and English". And the list goes on and on. This is a user nightmare and the other extreme: I do have options, but the experience is terrible.

In my day job, we also develop machine learning solutions. There's a striking common feature customers ask for: develop systems that support our users instead of making decisions for them. Sure, that's a great way to introduce change and take away fears of "the machine replacing you." But it also is a great way to make the user feel like the expert and the one who has the final say. That's what I love about many text-generating, GPT-3-based solutions: they feel like magic and give me suggestions I can use.

Let the final example be user onboarding. I think we all agree that user onboarding is essential for any successful product. And yet again, I experienced two kinds: the paternalistic one and the supporting one. The former simply forces you into tutorial mode where you either finish the "course" or you abort and it's gone forever. The latter simply asks "do you need help?". If not, it still gives me the option to (re-)start the onboarding later. (By the way, the same applies to the introduction of new features.) That is what I consider great user support: do not assume anything or make decisions, but simply ask and collaborate.

So let this be our indie hacker rallying call. Let us build products and solutions that give our customers autonomy, make them feel like experts, and support them on their way to mastery.

This post originally appeared in Basic Problem issue #37.

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