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Chapter Three. Meanings, Modes, Monotony... > Myth of the Beginner-Expert Dichotom...

3-6. Myth of the Beginner-Expert Dichotomy

We're humans first, beginners or experts second.

Clifford Nass, CBC “Quirks and Quarks” radio program, 23 January 1994

Psychologist Clifford Nass's point is similar to one that this book makes: Our interface designs must begin by accommodating universal human frailties and exploiting universal human strengths. We must make sure that every detail of an interface matches both our cognitive capabilities and the demands of the task (not that those two objectives exhaust our concerns). His comment also reflects the common assumption that users can be grouped into two classes: beginners and experts, perhaps with a few temporarily in transition. This dichotomy is invalid. As a user of a complex system, you are neither a beginner nor an expert, and you cannot be placed on a single continuum between these two poles. You independently know or do not know each feature or each related set of features that work similarly to one another. You may know how to use many commands and features of a software package; you may even work with the package professionally, and people may seek your advice on using it. Yet you may not know how to use or even know about the existence of certain other commands or even whole categories of commands in that same package. For example, a user of a photo-processing application who produces only online images may never need, or even learn of, that same application's facility for doing color separations, a feature needed primarily by commercial printers.


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