Design Published on the 10th January 2023

You are not your user. Your user is not the designer.

Anyone who is trying to design a product, whether digital or not, shares a common goal: to make sure the product meets the needs of the users. However, it is not always clear what the users want. Sometimes the user himself is not able to express his own expectations. How can we make sure that the website or app we are designing really meets the expectations of future users?

You are not your user. Your user is not the designer.

You ≠ User (UX Slogan #1)

The Nielse Norman Group, in one of their UX Slogan series videos highlight the following statement, "You ≠ User." You are not the user. This simple and concise phrase illustrates a concept that is not always easy to adopt. It applies to everyone and often serves as a mantra for UX/UI design teams. Note that the "you" represents a designer in the broadest sense, we're talking just as much about a UX/UI expert as any other person involved in the design of a product.

Jakob Nielsen explains that initially the slogan was: users are not designers and designers are not users. Today it is simplified, but the meaning remains the same.

Users are not the designers

To deliver a great user experience, you need to go beyond simply asking your users what they want from the product or solution. One thing to keep in mind: the user doesn't know. Chances are, they don't know what they want or are not able to express it clearly. Gathering the target's expectations is a separate step in the design of an app that must be done by the UX team.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have told me faster horses.” Henry Ford

Henry Ford was aware that it was not enough to focus only on what the users said.

Gathering user expectations

Finding the right balance between business requirements and how to integrate them into the interface requires quality user research.

The design team must immerse itself in the world of end users in order to understand their daily lives, their routines, but also their expectations and the difficulties they encounter. Different tools or methods can be used:

  • user interviews
  • Setting in situation,
  • observation,
  • shadowing,
  • ...

This understanding will allow us to design quality human-computer interfaces by integrating the opportunities that technology offers, in order to obtain the best possible user experience.

Designers are not the users

Designers know too much about the product they are designing. Their vision of needs and expectations is therefore biased by their advanced knowledge. As a result, the design team will not be able to estimate the complexity of a feature or the ease of understanding a part of the design for the end users.

To you, actions like changing your profile picture, turning off mobile app notifications, canceling your last order, may be simple and accessible actions. Easy for you, maybe, but is it for your users? Have you asked them?

Often, when user testing sessions are organized, we realize that users do not interact with the interface in the same way as the designer has thought about the product. The user may take longer to complete a task, they may miss a textual cue, they may get confused when performing a step that is unclear, or they may even leave the app or website in frustration.

Conduct user tests

In order to ensure that the design meets the needs of the target audience, you need to perform user tests. Position yourself as an observer, and identify the friction points, the features that need to be improved or that are not suitable. We, the designers, cannot judge with our personal opinions, because we are not the users. This step is therefore important and must be done for important and essential features.

The Nielse Norman Group highlights the statement "You ≠ User" to remind designers that their personal opinions cannot replace understanding user needs. To that end, it's important to conduct user research and testing in order to design products that meet the expectations of end users. Don't be blinded by your perception of your product, ask your users for their opinion.

Xavier G.

Product & UX Designer & Business Analyst

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