The guy who didn't know what a cross walk is.

August 10, 2007 - Get free updates of new posts here

A few weeks ago a guy asked me what to do at the crosswalk. I was a little shocked. Normally it would be the simple “you walk across the street.” And then I wondered if it was a hidden camera show so I looked around to see if he was for real.

hot girl at crosswalk

He was for real! Insane huh. Anyways, I did my good Eagle Scout of the day thing and explained how it works.

Moral of the story. Even though you think your product is self-explanatory there are people who have no idea. Don’t take for granted what people know and make it as easy as possible to understand things.

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19 responses to “The guy who didn't know what a cross walk is.

  1. Katie Konrath Reply

    So true! This is something that I see a lot in fields where there’s a lot of technical vocabulary. The people who work with it everyday just don’t realize that what they’re saying sounds completely incomprehensible to others who are not immersed in the industry.

    Crosswalks are such a normal part of life for all of us, that it’s unimaginable that someone wouldn’t know what they are. (Or so we think!)

    A little while ago, I wrote a post on how confusing computer terminology can sound to customers and how I wished computer stores would provide a little more guidance to us non-technical folk:

    It’s almost like a foreign language sometimes!

  2. Frank Reply

    Eagle Scout? Daaaaaaaamn. Yeah, I think too often creators don’t understand it doesn’t matter how they intend for their things to work. Bottom line is what the user thinks. Stop getting mad at users who don’t know how to use your product. :oP
    By the way, how *do* you explain how a crosswalk works? Cars don’t necessarily stop for you and sometimes crosswalks work a little differently in different situations/places.

  3. Karen Hartline Reply

    Noah was an Eagle Scout? I’m not surprised. 😉

    What really makes it hard is when the people who don’t get it are the ones you work with. Not kidding…

    Great post to keep us thinking simple. When I’m emailing my staff, I try to imagine I’m writing to my boss’ 4 and 6 year old daughters. If they would understand it, then there should be fewer problems.

  4. Chris goddard Reply

    As I live in Africa and at present am carrying out a project in the Democratic Republic Of Congo I still do not know what a cross walk is. From the picture I understand it is what we would call a Zebra Crossing (black and white stripes). But then we call a stoplight a Robot. Being in the Electrical field I know how common terminology from my perspective seems gibberish to anyone else. I have to remind myself on a daily basis that if people do not understand me it is not neccesarily because they are stupid.

  5. Peter Cooper Reply

    The first time I had to fill up with gas in the United States I had a similar issue. It’s nothing like you do in Europe 🙂 Sometimes the “easy” things are hard simply because they’re different so much place to place.

  6. Sri Reply

    Crosswalk??? We call it Zebra crossing back home. But its a dangerous crossing coz motorists dont pay attention to it. (in my country)

  7. Bull3t Reply

    I was pretty confused until I searched Wikipedia for “crosswalk” I too call it a Zebra Crossing as does Sri. The story makes a lot more sense now.

  8. Stephen Pitts Reply

    This is one of the most important reinforcements for group testing of your website. There are many things that we all take for granted… don’t miss out on opportunities.

    Oh, one more thing: Was this in Seattle by chance?

  9. Aniq Rahman Reply

    Taking things for granted as intuitive is often the easiest way to sink the ship. Beta test with your mother or better yet, your grandmother. If it’s not working out for them, fix it so that it doesn’t scare them or feel overwhelming. An innovator makes the world a better place for everyone, not just the ones that can cross.

    Get things in motion with focus groups and asking friends and family to give you feedback.

    However, it’s important to also make sure that you don’t over simplify things or make them so that functionality is lost.

    This is why the Apple team is so revered. The iPhone doesn’t have a static keypad, but you can still send texts, calls and emails on its touch screen. The iPod only really has one button on it, but thats all you need. Who wants 5 different buttons to accidentally hit.

  10. Izzy Neis Reply


    I was confused about the “Zebra Crossing” in the UK. I was like… random, roaming Zebras? SWEET. But no… it was for people crossing.

    Luckily us— “cross walk”– seems a bit more “obvious” don’t you think?

    Poor guy. His street smarts are a little worrisome.

    Queue side tangent of rambliness:

    I have to say… I’m a little tired of ‘beat-you-over-the-head’ super explanations. I work at a kid site and they’re ALWAYS trying to put more copy out there to really “nail home” how to engage in the simplistic form for MANY different learning types (which is a LOT of info to read… regurgitated over and over). Sometimes the best way to learn is just to fiddle around and figure it out.

    Kids aren’t going to be able to open a door without explicit instructions.

    Besides… oh what an adventure that guy must have had. He learned how to navagate a CROSS WALK! Woo hoo! And not just navagate it– illicit the help of a fellow community membor.

    Gotta love it when the community comes together to progress. YAY.


  11. blondieblogger Reply

    I have learned the same thing, you get asked the same questions over and over again every day. I used to ask myself why don’t they know the answer but then I realized if one person asks the question then other people must not know the answer either
    Great post 🙂

  12. Todd Earwood Reply

    I agree, thanks for the simple, but needed reminder. We all still have to consider the lowest common denominator.

    Recently, one of my non-tech friends couldn’t get back to our homepage because I create an actual button that said ‘home’. Although I expect the masses have learned to click on a logo or header to get back to root, you still have users that don’t.

  13. Jen L Reply

    Aniq: A guy who worked with audio tours for museums/attractions once told me that after testing iPods, they didn’t go with them because the scroll wheel is confusing for older folk, who make up a large percentage of the audience.

  14. Melitz Reply

    There’s a lot of things that may seem so simple to us but is not easily understood by others. Like color matching with clothes. There are people who just know what matches and what doesn’t. My kids will always cringe when they see my husband wear which seems ok to him but not so cool with the kids.

    Or, maybe asking someone to click on an icon on the desktop when you mean clicking it on the screen ‘desktop’, not looking for the icon in their desk.