Assumptions, however, are often wrong. People are very, very good at finding loopholes and shortcuts. They are also incredibly good at bending the rules to make things work best for them. That’s why we end up with passwords placed on sticky notes and onboarding tutorials being notoriously skipped. As it happens, this shows up in many different ways.

In this post, I’ve put together a few personal observations from real usability testing on how people behave, what they do, and what they don’t do on the web. Frankly, the results shouldn’t be very surprising to you, but once put together, they paint quite an astonishing picture.

The most important notion for me (and the most disappointing one) is that users, in general, don’t seem to trust websites. They are often seen as “hostile”, “unfriendly”, “busy”, “annoying,” and “confusing”. That’s why the default attitude towards any website is pretty much the same: block everything!

That’s why pop-ups and modals are often dismissed instinctively. So are push notifications, chat window pop-ups, feedback pop-ups and install app prompts. The same also goes for importing contacts or granting access to geolocation, camera, microphone, or photos.

A common problem that users often experience is the lack of control. Not only do windows appear all-of-a-sudden, requiring users’ immediate attention; users don’t feel that they can rely on the website and fully control their digital experience. This often reflects in words such as “fragile”, “broken”, “confusing”, “poorly done”, “not helpful” coming up.

One of the things that surprised me was the notion of “calm experience” that came up frequently. What users seem to mean by that is a predictable, reliable design. A design where input boxes appear as input boxes, with large radio buttons and checkboxes, with simple password requirements and helpful error messages.

Of course, the observations above might not be quite right in your case. Enterprise environments, for example, are very different and can prompt very different user behavior. However, these insights seem to be quite holistic, with many people behaving in a similar way when experiencing similar issues.

What’s really interesting to me is that while user frustrations have evolved and increased significantly over the years, the things that users love and appreciate haven’t changed at all. They probably won’t change in the future either, so focusing on them first might be just the right investment for every project in 2023.

(This article isn’t exhaustive by any means, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.)