The Communication Studio

the "You" in Usability

Imagine users as very intelligent, but very busy.

Allen Cooper

I often ask my clients,

"Would you really go into a room filled with your customers and stakeholders and say 'Hello, users.'? Kind of insulting and off-putting, isn't it?"

Seems to be - as it often is in UxP - an issue of perspective.

I usually try to locate the Point of View "right here"

The Rhetorical You


In documentation and when describing activities and behavior in on-screen directions and guidance, I try to keep the perspective relatively (and I mean that literally) "me-centric" by using The Rhetorical "You". i.e. "You consider the list of options" and then "You click on this button".

The Rhetorical You is easily understood:

It's how you talk. It's how you give directions. It's personal. It's immediate. It's user-centric because it puts you in the experiential driver's seat, no matter who you are.

For purposes of clarification, you can always say something like, "You would - as a Visitor - see this option. You would - as an Agent - see these choices."

It's simple and conversational.

It communicates unambiguously.

And it always keeps the context "user-centric".- but without the off-putting, awkward label.

Net/Net: I reserve the term "user" to be used as a very specific descriptor (as I have here), not as a generic label.


Just Your Type

Thanks to Alan Cooper ("About Face" 1995) for this thumbnail description some of the needs of these 3 "types" of audience. The interface of any well-designed product should be customizable and responsive to the needs of each.

Beginners are not stupid. Intermediates need access to tools. Experts want shortcuts to everything.

Allen Cooper
What does the program do?
What's this Gizmo for?
How do I automate this?
What is the scope?
Oops! Can I undo?
What are shortcuts for this?
Where do I start?
Remind me of what this does.
How can I customize this?
Show me where and how.
I forgot how to... Guide me.
Can this be changed?

Wordsmithing the Concept

Dilemma: The value & entity issues of "user experience" and "user interface" are still a work in progress with stakeholders in the business (tho we're almost there), so wordsmithing user out of the title might be premature right now. It's a topic that's still very front & center right now, and we need to talk about it.

The unfortunate terminology of "user" needs to be addressed. It really is kinda icky in an impersonal, tonedeaf kind of way - but it's commonly used. I'd say, stick with the current terminology, and then use it as a jumping-off point for making some valuable observations about "you-centricity"

We do a better job of making people comfortable with what we do when we don't casually label them as "users".