RANT: Making it easy enough for your wife to use

Quick rant alert!!! I need to unload this...

In the online discussions I see regarding RSS (and frankly I've seen the same in discussions on other technology online), people refer to your/their “grandmother” or your/their “wife”  using it and needing to get it to the point to where it's easy enough for them to understand. People...this is a totally insulting stereotype! You have to stop it! Perhaps you could frame these thoughts differently, maybe refer to “novice users” or something similar (but not gender or age specific)?

I mean, think about what you are saying for a second. If you are developing a product, you most likely have female customers (who could be someone's wife or grandmother), who could be insulted by this. And just because someone doesn't code (and we know there are fewer women in tech than men), it does not mean that they are stupid (yep, read that sentence again...we are not stupid!).

End of rant.

Comments (23)

  1. Anonymous says:

    …’fewer’ women in tech.

  2. anon says:

    April Fool’s day is probably poor timing for that rant. Your grandfather might not understand that you’re being serious.

  3. anon says:

    How about "Making it easy enough for a Marketing Person to use" 🙂

  4. Ouch @ anon.

    I’ve always thought of it as an expression. "My mom can’t do this" isn’t a slate against my mom. She’s designed some of the most important large structures in the world (designs hospitals, bridges and dams). She’s incredibly smart.

    That said, if it’s IT related… My wife isn’t.

    Okay, though, I hear your point. If the tables were turned I’d get offended too. I swear I won’t say "and this idea is so great Heather could use it" in my Microsoft interview 😉

  5. Heather,

    Instead of ranting in your blog why didn’t you contact the folks that offended you about their comments or even better bring it up in the forum where the discussion was being held?

  6. Heather says:

    Dare-Because I didn’t feel comfortable with ranting using that particular medium (thought blogging was more appropriate for personal opinions). And because I have seen it in a number of different places (not just in that one that inspired the rant today). I guess my point is that people don’t think about the connotation when they say something like that. But they should. And not just from a personal perespective but from a business perspective.

    I have a pretty thick skin personally…just ask Gretchen and Zoe. So people who know me can comment on my level of technical expertise if they want, but I don’t think that "wives" and "grandmothers" is how we should describe technical proficiency.

    Jeremy-thanks for the feedback. I should differentiate between someone referring to their own mother versus "so easy your mom could use it" in more of a generic sense.

  7. Heather says:


  8. anonymous says:

    I think the proper term to use would be-

    So easy that everyone can use it. (or everybody)*(or anyone)

  9. Since I was the inspiration for this particular rant, I’ll admit that I need a few better personas. The ones I discussed were based on real-world personas in my life. My wife and mom don’t blog and don’t use RSS. When they do, I know that the technology has gone mainstream (my wife loves our Tivo now, for instance).

    Yesterday Jeff Sandquist and I interviewed Pat Helland. Very smart guy. But admits to not getting IM and other social software technologies. He blames it on being old (he’s in his late 40s). He says his grandkids use IM but that he doesn’t get it.

    I didn’t mean to imply that they can’t use it, it’s just that they are too busy to learn something new. My mom graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a 4.0 average, after all.

    I also didn’t mean to imply that there aren’t men (or even young men) in the same situation (and that there aren’t women who do grok RSS or blogging, I know better than that since it was Dori Smith http://www.backupbrain.com who introduced me to blogging). I’ll fix that in my thinking. Thanks for bringing it up!

  10. I believe that brand building should aim to be as inclusive as possible. By using exlusionary language, there could be potential for someone subconsciously suspecting exclusion elsewhere in the company as well. While such thinking may be incorrect, it is a real human phenomenon.

    I would attempt to rewrite the entire marketing message to make the product as inclusive, of all potential purchasers, as possible.

  11. Heather says:

    Hey Scoble,

    It wasn’t actually you. But I appreciate what you said here. I just think it’s something people don’t think about. I remember hooking up WebTV for my grandma about 5 years ago (actually right after I started at Microsoft) and part way through my explanation of how it works she said "Excuse me Heather, I’m old, not stupid". My first lesson in "know your customer".

    And I’ve even heard discussion of the interview question "Tell me how you would explain the Internet to your grandmother". I’ve also heard of someone hanging up the phone on the interviewer after that question (and no it wasn’t me).

    I don’t know, Grandma might be getting a little tired of this ; )

    My intent really wasn’t to scold anyone (although it may look that way). I just want to ask people to think about what they are implying by using these terms, especially if we (the software industry and marketers in general) are seeking adoption from women as well as men.

    If anyone needs to run an explanation of technology past someone smart, but non-technical, feel free to run it past me…I don’t mind (and would love to help ensure that we are getting appropriate info out to all targets). Gretchen shared with me her husband Josh’s e-mail about aggregators; which ones adapt to certain workstyles and how to get them set up and his explanation was right on. You can think of me as your "non-technical, early adopter knowledge worker" ; )

  12. Can you make an Oldsmobile so easy your kids could drive it?

    I use the G-ma analogy all the time. The vision is a user that receives so little value from the technology that you need to make it super easy to sell them on it. As others have said, it’s not to imply the user can’t understand. It’s just an example of a user who won’t take the time to learn something of marginal value.

    They are too busy perfecting their Bingo strategy.

  13. John Cavnar-Johnson says:

    I’ve used this line before, but I’m always careful to make the following qualifier:

    As a developer, you have to understand that we are the abnormal ones. We’re often creating software for people who are utterly unlike us. For example, my wife is a physician. She is in many ways more intelligent and accomplished than I am. When I say I want to make software easy enough for her to use, I mean I want my software to be transparent to an intelligent person who has ZERO time to "learn about computers". Spend a little time watching someone like my wife using the computer and you will very quickly realize that the problem is not with our users. The problem is our crappy software.

    As to Scoble original point, RSS and blogging are definitely at the stage of technology that "only a geek could love". Think about all the possibilities for RSS for doctors (if you think things change fast in our world, just wait till you see how much a physician has to keep up with). I really do want to make RSS easy enough for my wife to use. It’s not there yet.

  14. Heather says:

    My grandma doens’t play bingo though and she’s much more proficient with technology than my grandpa…so?

  15. Oran says:

    Another possible reason wives are mentioned is a subconscious frustration by male geeks that their non-geek wives don’t always seem to appreciate the same things that they do, and that it can sometimes be pretty tough to make them go, "wow, that’s pretty cool!" to something they built at work. Typically non-geek wives of male geeks are the ones who have to suffer through their husband’s little stories of obscure tech conquests, which often makes them a bit jaded about software.

  16. secretGeek says:

    that’s very cute, Heather dear, now get back to your knitting.

  17. Cartman says:



    GEEKBOY, we dont take kindly to your kind here.


    Sorry if Cartman rubbed off on me but Heather is right. Most people which comment to what Heather mentioned are just assuming that everyone in technology is just young. Think about when some of us get old and see ads which say even your grandmother could do it …….

  18. Pandering to sensitive opinions leads to increased sensitivity, and further pandering will be required. Dancing on eggshells is an exhausting activity, and I do not recommend starting.

    When designing for maximum accessibility impedes the user experience for all non-disabled users, it’s gone too far.

    When succinctness has to be watered down because of political correctness, it’s gone too far.

  19. Heather says:

    Oran-good insight.

  20. Joshua Allen says:

    Normally when I say "make it easy enough for my Mom to use", I consider it to be an acknowledgment of the value of mothers and an indictment of geeks low self-esteem. Mothers are the most universally loved of all creatures, and we naturally want avoid causing them too much suffering. On the other hand, when we geeks design a product for ourselves, we are all too happy to endure crappy usability. We put up with nasty designs that we would never ask our mothers to use. It’s like the old saying that mechanics cars have so many reliability problems — it’s true because mechanics are often willing to tweak things or mess with their cars and leave them half-running, but they would never ask their mothers to use the same car. Or like the way a computer geek will run cat5 cable across the floor to get a home network running, but when his mom wants Internet access, he goes and buys a wireless hub. We have higher standards for our Moms.

  21. Dave Vespa says:

    I agree, I think we should stop this type of marketing all together. Like the recent Hardee’s spots "Without us some guys would starve…" No we wouldn’t, and besides your food is garbarge.

  22. unhappy says:

    How about make it easy enough for you computer geek husband to use? You know-the one who can’t grasp the concept of picking up his underwear off of the floor- or spending actual time with his wife, instead of ignoring her and making her feel like an f’ing slave.

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