One of the situations i have had to deal with on projects is the one where the stakeholders claim the software has been in the market for twenty years and users are already familiar with the system and hence we don’t need new thinking or usability features. Can this be true? Can users get used to a bad system to a level where they may not prefer a more usable system. I wonder. This brings me to the baby duck syndrome.
Whats Baby Duck Syndrome?
Baby Duck Syndrome denotes the tendency for computer users to “imprint” on the first system they learn, then judge other systems by their similarity to that first system. The result is that “users generally prefer systems similar to those they learned on and dislike unfamiliar systems.” The term may have been inspired by popular understanding of the work, experiences, and observations of Konrad Lorenz.
Based on reference provided on wisegeek.com
“This technical term is a reference to the work of Konrad Lorenz, a psychologist who actually studied geese, not ducks, although his work could be generalized to ducks. He learned that when baby birds hatch, they “imprint” on whatever moving thing they first see, whether or not that thing is a parent. Lorenz famously got several clutches of goslings to imprint on him, and there are some charming photographs of Lorenz teaching the young geese how to swim, eat, and perform other tasks.
Much like baby birds, humans apparently imprint on whatever technology they are exposed to first. Someone who learns to use a Linux operating system, for example, will typically reject alternative operating systems, sometimes including other versions of Linux. Likewise, someone who learned to type with Microsoft Word might struggle with WordPerfect, a very similar program, and people used to the QWERTY keyboard dislike the DVORAK layout.”
I for one haven’t tried a mac or linux yet thanks to my familiarity with windows (i can hear grunts). So the next time somebody claims to like a system a little too much to try anything else – watch our for the syndrome.
But how do you deal with a situation like this, when it comes to redesigning an existing interface?