The Dentist Fallacy

 The dentist is usually disappointed and nobody is smiling
The dentist is usually disappointed and nobody is smiling

Most people hate going to the dentist. Most assume that the reason is pain. The dentist digs, prods and pokes, finding lots of things wrong in your teeth. There is generally a decent chance because you don’t spend every waking moment brushing your teeth and avoiding sweets that the dentist will need to do a lot of painful things in a very-sensitive-to-pain part of your body to fix them. Then you usually have to give them a lot of money.

People hate going to the dentist, not because of the pain but because they don’t like feeling bad. The dentist looks at teeth all day. Because the world of teeth surrounds them, they have high expectations. They expect people to achieve the highest standards in teeth. Fact is nobody flosses and many don’t brush their teeth in circular fashion spending a minimum of 15 seconds per tooth. What then happens is that when you go to the dentist with your imperfect teeth, the dentist is disappointed, and they make it known to you.

You then feel bad because you were less than perfect in what they remind you to be a very easily avoidable way. All you have to do is this simple set of things each day, and then you’ll have the perfect teeth which I expect, they say, and then you won’t have to come in here and disappoint me. You won’t have perfect teeth because most of the time in the grand scheme of your day it isn’t as important to you as it is to the dentist.

Designers, especially the digital sort, are dentists. We poke and prod through people’s daily lives, inserting technology, products and services that are supposed to help but are generally painful. We don’t care because we’re dentists. We can’t stand that someone doesn’t see how important what we’ve made is to their lives and how much better they will be off. Instead, they keep on using Outlook and that five-year-old phone. The machine keeps on alerting your mom that she’s not doing it right and then she gives up because she’s not a dentist.

Designers need to be more like teachers, not dentists. We need to explain whats going on and why it is crucial. We need to design interfaces, machines and systems that explain themselves. When your mom uses a thing that we design it should be gentle and slow like your third-grade teacher, you know the one that got you excited about drawing planets. The thing you design should not make them feel worse for using or caring about it. We need to be okay with that just like the third-grade teacher who was okay with you not being into whales. Stop the alerts, stop the berating and push them along gently knowing that they might not do what you think is essential, and that’s okay.