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Give me a definition for the word dashboard

. Sourced from a Tweet thread, posted on February 11, 2021.

I finished up a research project a couple of weeks ago, and I'd like to share a detail that completely threw me for a loop.

We were conducting user research with a demographic with a high degree of variability in both skill level and technological literacy. The common thread was the same job role. Part of the research involved an interactive prototype. I had your usual "things we ask you to test" and “things we observe you testing” setup.

One individual I tested was high skill level and low tech literacy. They said something that stopped the test dead in its tracks:

“Give me a definition for the word 'dashboard' because I'm kind of tech ignorant. I hear the word all the time, but what exactly is the definition. […] I know what a dashboard is in a vehicle, but I've never thought about what a dashboard is before.”

I suggested the word “status” in its place and it immediately clicked. The participant told me that they know tech is important to learn, and expressed some frustration with their previous attempts.

This person is good at their job, a role that requires a lot of attention to detail, planning and scheduling, as well as some strategic thought around prioritization.

Tech literacy and intelligence aren't the same thing, and we, as digital product makers, oftentimes forget that. You don't want to infantilize the people you design and develop for, but you also need to check each and every assumption you make.

That dashboard would have been a month or so of work for me, but it would have been the participant's everyday experience for the foreseeable future. That's a huge responsibility.

This is all to say: things are seldom binary, assumptions are everywhere, technology is full of conflicting metaphors, and talking to your users is critical.