Myth: You are like your users

When designing a website, it’s easy to assume that everybody is like you. However, this leads to a strong bias and often ends in an inefficient design.

You evidently know a lot about your services and your website; you’re passionate about them.

Your users, on the other hand, are likely to not care that much. They have different attitudes and goals, and just want to get things done on your website. To avoid this bias, you need to learn about your users, involve them in the design process, and interact with them.

Why are you different from your audience?

  • Jakob Nielsen states that “One of usability’s most hard-earned lessons is that ‘you are not the user.’ If you work on a development project, you’re atypical by definition. Design to optimize the user experience for outsiders, not insiders. The antidote to bubble vapor is user testing: find out what representative users need. It’s tempting to work on what’s hot, but to make money, focus on the basics that customers value.” – Growing a Business Website: Fix the Basics First

  • Nielsen also shows computer literacy stats and argues that “the main point I want to make is that you, dear reader, are almost certainly in the top category of computer skills.”

  • The launch of Google Buzz illustrates this misconception well. Buzz was tested with 20,000 Google employees and still launched with a feature that generated loads of complaints until the feature was dropped. It ran smoothly with tons of Google employees, but they weren’t the real users. – You are not your user. No matter how good you think you are.

  • Kathy Sierra advises that you should focus on the user’s viewpoint and story instead of yours: “Quit telling us how great you are, and start telling us how you plan to deliver something that helps the user become greater.”

  • In programming, even programming language creators and programmers are on a very different level: the community of code-ninjas who design the Java language face many challenges to make the language usable for average programmers. - Java Closures and What We Can Learn From HCI: You Are Not Your User

  • Joshua Brewer explains why it’s important to understand your users and recognize the fact that they are not like you. - You are not your user

  • The book The user is always right, which is about creating and using personas, lists the steps to user-centered design, the second of which is to understand that you are not your user.

  • Susan Weinschenk discusses the difference between users’ mental model and designers’ conceptual model. She argues that the key to good UX design is to match the two. - The Secret to Designing an Intuitive UX: Match the Mental Model to the Conceptual Model

  • Google’s “What is a Browser?” survey/advertisment brilliantly demonstrates how little people understand or care about such a thing as a browser. Why would they care about another piece of software?

  • There’s a good psychology study illustrating how hard it is for people immersed in a business to put themselves in the shoes of beginners - The Curse of Knowledge

  • Jeff Atwood summarizes why Users don’t care about you.

  • All that said, sometimes the creators and the audience are so alike that it makes sense that the team designs for itself - even with all the dangers of dogfooding. 37signals, Campaign Monitor or Intercom are well known examples for successful self design

Zoltán Gócza  
Acknowledgment: UX Myths:

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