Protecting Users From Themselves

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my four plus years as a product manager, it’s that you can’t count on the user to do anything right.

You might design the most intuitive interface around. You might have perfect prompts and highly visible buttons and calls-to-action. But users will still get it wrong and it’s your fault because you didn’t stop them.

Those pesky users…

The solution for users like that is what makes the job of a product manager both infuriating and fun. How can you design a system or workflow that accounts for users who don’t know what they are doing? Can you save them from themselves if they do something dumb?

We spend a lot of time thinking about when to show warnings or information to users. Sometimes we deliberately leave information out because we’re fearful that the user will act on the information in the wrong way.

For example, at Hover, if you have your nameservers set to a third-party DNS system, you can still create and edit DNS records on our DNS system even though that literally does nothing. We do warn users that the DNS records won’t have any effect, but we don’t suggest to them what to do.

Some users in that situation should change their nameservers to Hover. Others should go to their DNS provider and add or edit the records there. But we don’t know which are which and if we make a suggestion (even if we suggest both options), there’s a good chance the user will do the wrong thing and break everything. Guess who gets the blame?

Just call us…

Instead, we suggest they call us or start a chat so that a smart human can talk it through with them and find out what really needs to be done. Yes, it costs us a support interaction, and it takes some time and maybe adds some frustration for the user. But when you can’t count on your users to know what to do and to do it, sometimes protecting them from themselves is the best option.

The end result is that the user gets their problem fixed and we don’t hold their hand and walk them off a cliff.