Not you. You’re a person. And persons, by and large, are reasonably intelligent. It’s the multiples. The multitudes. The masses. They’re idiots.
Writing words is a significant portion of my job. And a significant portion of that significant portion involves writing instructional copy for websites. That is, words that explain what a user is supposed to do on the site.
It’s amazing what people don’t understand. You create intuitive navigation, label it with single-syllable-simplicity, and pair it with a graphic so obvious that an illiterate foreigner raised by wolves will understand it. And someone will still fail to recognize that the button in the upper left corner of the site with a picture of a house and the word “Home” is going to take them back to the homepage.
And people wonder why creatives drink so much.
But I recently discovered something that put it all in perspective. Something that made me realize that it’s not me. It’s them. And that something is tin foil. Specifically the box of tin foil sitting on my kitchen counter, and the instructions printed on it.
Did you catch that last part? The part about the instructions. On the box. Of tin foil.
Tin foil. I’m assuming you’re all familiar with this stuff. It’s like wrapping paper for food. There are only two sides to it. I mean, printing anything other than the name of the brand on the box would pretty much prove with scientific authority that people are morons. Hey, will you look at that:
Do you know what this means, gentle reader? Do you understand the significance? This means that the poor employees of Reynolds Wrap Inc got so many calls on their “Idiocy Hotline” (customer service call center) asking which side of a two-sided object to use that they were forced to print instructions right on the box. It means people literally could not figure out tin foil. Here’s a hint guys: even if you somehow don’t get it on the first try, you can always just flip it over and try again. It’s a wonder my pants don’t come with a screen printed message on the inside of the leg saying “If you can read this, we’re inside out”.
Ok, well this makes perfect sense. By opening the box, we have created a lid. A tab, if you will. A Stay Closed Tab (registered, no less). But what’s that hidden in the shadow of the Stay Close Tab (R)? It’s another line of type that reads “Insert Lid Here”.
Evidently, calling this gross mutation of a hanging chad a tab was not clear enough. Neither was the strategically placed perforation beneath it. Clearly, so many people failed to grasp that the tab is meant to be inserted into the slot, that Reynold’s felt the need to label both parts and include a helpful arrow to guide the way. If it weren’t prohibitively expensive, I have no doubt they would have included a small speaker that would activate upon opening the box. This would merrily inform people of the great functionality involved in the Stay Closed Tab and it’s perforated counterpart, and only shut the hell up once they successfully joined the two in cardboard intercourse.
Oh come on now. Isn’t our desire to avoid jabbing ourselves on sharp objects an instinctual one? Do we really need to warn people about this? If we do, do they deserve the warning? Aren’t we just spitting in Darwin’s face here? I want you to look me honestly in the blog and tell me that you wouldn’t feel just a little satisfaction with knowing that anyone stupid enough to slit their wrist on a package of tin foil had been taken care of by natural selection. Anyone dumb enough to do it deserves to follow the dodo.
In short, I no longer chafe at the need for redundant navigation and eternally-insufficient instructional copy. Tin foil has taught me a valuable lesson about the level of intelligence I can expect from people. I am, after all, writing on the web. And if these slack-jawed mouth breathers can’t manage to navigate their way through a cardboard box and the wrapping of a sandwich, I can’t reasonably expect them to figure out a website.