WWUS (What would the user say?)

Users are not as tech savvy as you think

Gabriela Motroc

We are surrounded by technology and things will get even more complicated next year for those who lack computer skills. If you look at reports describing how the world is going to look like in 2017, you will see that artificial intelligence and intelligent apps and products are taking center stage in our lives. You might be ready to explore these trends in-depth but users aren’t.

A report by Change the Equation, a consortium of business and education organizations, showed that digital natives (also known as millennials) are not tech savvy despite the fact that they grew up with computers and internet access. Although they spend an average of 35 hours per week glued to tech media, almost six out of 10 digital natives lack basic tech knowledge and cannot fulfill tasks such as search, sort or email data from a spreadsheet.

This leads us to the following problem: if users do not have basic tech knowledge, why are we force-feeding them topics that are hard to digest and why do we think they are interested in our trends?

From hero to zero

Dr. Jakob Nielsen, User Advocate and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group, explained in an article that the difference between you and the average user is that the latter’s skills in technology are not so great. An international study published this year by the OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a club of industrialized countries) shows the gap between the tech-savvy and the broad population. The study tested 215,942 people aged 16-65 from 33 countries and aimed to test their skills.

The OECD ranked technology skills in four levels—below level one (which basically means level zero), level one, level two and level three (most skilled). As it turns out, 14 percent of adult population is below level one (Dr. Nielsen explained that people in this category can delete an email in an email app) while 29 percent of respondents have level one tech skills (which translates into being able to use a web browser or email browser). 26 percent can use both generic and more specific tech applications (level two) and five percent have level three skills — “the use of tools (e.g. a sort function) is required to make progress towards the solution. The task may involve multiple steps and operators.”

However, the numbers for the levels do not sum up to 100 percent because 26 percent (across the OECD countries) could not use a computer.

Keep it simple?

The study shows that only 5 percent of US respondents have level three computer skills. In Australia and the UK, only six percent of respondents can rightfully call themselves tech savvy while in Canada and North Europe this situation applies to seven percent of respondents. Eight percent of the respondents in Japan and Singapore have level three computer skills.


Screen Shot 2016-11-18 at 3.29.09 PM

Source: Screenshot

The bottom line is that you should probably stop assuming that users can do whatever you are telling them to do on your website — they might not be great problem solvers and they might not even understand what you want from them. So save time by solving these problems yourself.

Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments