When technology becomes the confounding force
In under two weeks, I will be going to the UK for a year-long contract, to work on a complex and exciting content strategy project. As part of the ritual of leaving behind, albeit it temporarily, a community of 20 years, I decided to have a get-together, a chance to see all of my friends and colleagues before I head out. I created a guest list, put it into some software, created an invitation, and sent it out. A couple of weeks later, I noticed that more people than not hadn't viewed the invitation yet. What happened?
A few phone calls later, I discovered that many of the "regular" folk (I.e. not working in technology) had not realized that they had a tabs feature in gmail. The invitation had been route to the Social tab, and there it languished, along with unread notices of meet-ups and events. The idea that new features can be rolled out, without preparation notice, and without taking into account what we'd call the change management piece, has become the new pain point. People work on muscle memory. Click here, type that, move the mouse over there...and one day it doesn't work. The user is awakened from their auto-pilot wondering what they were doing, and what they were looking for.
A local UX practitioner told me a story about a library site that listed links on how to get into various webmail sites: Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, etc. during. Revamp, the IA suggested that this page be removed. The library staff protested vigorously; it seems that thousands of patrons only know how to get to their webmail by going to the library site and clicking on "their link". I don't suggest that the UX never be changed for he better - I happen to love the tabs - but I do think we need to have a better grasp of the consequences for our full range of users before disrupting their workflows, and find multiple ways to communicate those changes to our audiences.