Drunk users everywhere

Lately there's been lots of posts about the idea of designing for drunk users first. I'm a fan.

I first ran into this beautiful concept maybe two years ago when I saw this video:

It's beautiful. Such a great analogy, and such great examples of the real life user psychology. I'm a big fan of this concept especially because it's a complete opposite for the ”I'm a cool designer and I'm now blessing the user with the gift of my carefully curated art exhibition of a website” which just isn't working. I actually embedded this video in my first blog post Understanding web design.

Now Richard Littauer made a site theuserisdrunk.com which of course got tweeted quite heavily. On his site Richard offers to actually get drunk and make usability a review for your website. And since price has threefolded apparently he's getting some real traction. 

Richard's site theuserisdrunk.com. Click image to see the site.

Richard's site theuserisdrunk.com. Click image to see the site.

Gizmodo decided to try out this service. Check out the video of drunk user testing here:

And read more about it here.

Interestingly enough while watching the video (sober) I didn't really understand the design of Gizmodo that much better (”What's Kinja” were my thoughts exactly). So this is another example of why doing any kind of real life usability testing is a good idea. As designers we know a lot about user psychology, but when you're in front of the design for countless hours in a row you cannot avoid getting somewhat blind to what you're creating. 

”even the best-trained and best-motivated designers can go wrong when they listen to their instincts instead of testing their ideas on actual users”

- The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman

The main idea here applies to lots of other stuff as well. Tackling the hardest challenges first is the only intelligent way to design anything. Some examples of this include:

  • Mobile first: Designing for devices with the least space and figuring out your the hierarchy and other design considerations for the most challenging devices first. When you've solved the design problems there, it's a lot easier to enhance the experience for devices with more screen real estate than the other way around. Just making stuff that's next to each other on desktop and putting them on top of each other on mobile does not make a good mobile user experience. Often on desktop you have so much space that it doesn't necessarily force you to make any actual decision. Mobile will.
  • Progressive enhancement: Same idea here. Designing for crappy browsers first and making the experience even better by taking advantage of the cool new features of modern browsers when they're there. This is a lot easier than trying to figure out how to make finished complex designs work in the dreaded IE8. 
  • In industrial design: I read about a company (Finnish company Fiskars if I remember correctly, I have to check!) that designed gardening tools especially for people with arthritis. By designing a product for one of the most challenging user groups they ended up with a design that was an even better experience with the lucky ones without such condition.
  • And now of course ”The user is drunk” philosophy for user experience design: You take the most challenging user group and make your design work for them. Now if the user isn't actually drunk, they'll be able to use your product or understand your message with even more ease like with the shears designed for people with arthritis.

There's lots of related concepts here. The idea of really designing for users and testing heavily and as often as possible isn't far away from the Lean Startup -philosophy.
The problem why this isn't happening as much as we'd like is budgets.

So yes, often times the users might not actually be drunk. But they might be freezing their fingers using a 3 years old crappy Android with a slow connection. Or frustrated for any other reason. One thing that's absolutely certain is that their attention span is one of a really drunk person.  The fact that internet users have a ridiculously short attention span is one of the most important considerations I think about when designing for the web.  So large text. Less text.  Good copy. Quality images. Clear navigation (no hamburgers). Fast loading times. Otherwise they will cmd+w you. For functional applications this is even more important because you have to actually teach users how to use your app without getting them frustrated. 

In the Squareweave blog post  and in the video above they tell us to say important things twice like you would to a drunk person. This maybe the only part where I don't completely really agree with them, but it of course depends a lot on the situation. I'd lean more towards the idea of :


Say it once, but with focus.



Like what you've read? Get in touch.
I'm available for freelance work with web and UX design.
In addition to freelancing I'm also interested in working in a startup or a design agency in SF, Berlin or Sydney within the next few years. 

Petri Pottonen
+358 50 3061446