Ride passenger

Have you ever had to sit and watch someone struggle to do something on a computer or phone? They keep clicking the wrong thing or looking in the wrong place, pushing the wrong buttons, or using the wrong gestures. It’s a frustrating experience for everyone involved.

My patience has grown with experience. Particularly in helping folks with technological frustrations. In the past, I would get the urge to politely take over the driver’s seat (their computer) and zoom on over to the destination resolving their frustration and feeling like a hero… except I wasn’t really helping all that much. I also was missing out on countless learning opportunities.

I don’t know exactly when, but at some point I decided to purposefully ride passenger in that situation. My role is no longer to play the hero. It’s to help us both learn and, at the same time, accomplish the task at hand.

The rules are simple:

  1. Ask questions. Find out what the other person is trying to do and why.
  2. Never interrupt. Let them vent frustrations or explain the best they can.
  3. Learn from them. Ask them to walk you through what they tried while voicing their thoughts along the way. This is a huge learning opportunity if you build websites or really anything. You’ll start to really understand how folks think and where they might stumble when you you are building your own products.
  4. Be a good guide. Often, folks will solve their own problem simply because they are looking a little harder at the problem while you are there. If not, point them in the right direction. If you need to search the web for something, encourage them to do it and explain why you asked them to search for that particular string.

These should sound fairly familiar for those of you that have done user interviews or usability testing. The main difference is that in the interviews or tests, you don’t usually do step number 4 because if they can’t figure it out, something in the product or flow needs to change.

In practice

Riding passenger is fun. Don’t look at it as an interruption. You are both helping someone and learning all at the same time. For free!

Your friends and family may not call you every day for tech support, but if you’re itching to try this out, go to a meetup. I have preached before about going to local meetups. They are great for learning, networking, and just getting out of the office. They are also great for seeking trouble.

At our local WordPress meetup in Denver, one of my favorite things to do is to ride passenger. We get a good mix of bloggers, site builders, and developers. Quite a few of those folks are running their own (often quite unique) businesses and don’t have loads of time to struggle with their (often quite unique) websites. The meetup offers them a way to quickly get the answers they are looking for so they can get back to managing their business. They are perfect candidates to ride passenger. Even if you don’t know the answer, perhaps you’ll learn a bit or even be able to point them in the right direction.

The next time someone asks you to help them out, try riding passenger. You’ll see just how much you learn just from watching and listening. Start from curiosity. Welcome and seek out difference. Let me know how it goes!


By Michael Arestad

I design at Chromatic.