22/9/2010

Mule Design Studio’s Blog: Super Uns…

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Super Unsuck It! Bye-Bye, My.
In the immortal words of Armand Van Helden: My my my (my my my) Woh (woh) How did we ever get this way? Where’s it gonna go? When designing an interface in 2010, would you copy Windows 95? Would you copy Yahoo!’s copy of Windows 95? Many people are still doing just that, and we want them to stop.
You are reading Mule Design Studio’s weblog. Previous Post: The Customer Experience is the User Experience Next Post: The Web is Not Content. The Web is People. Super Unsuck It! Bye-Bye, My. is posted in the Design and Unsuck categories.

How did we ever get this way?
In the beginning, there was My Computer, and then there was M y Yahoo! Then, like mushrooms after a rain, a million mindless imitators emerged. These sites didn’t just use M y in the brand like My Yahoo! or MySpace. M y came to preface any interface element inviting personalization. In their excellent Design Pattern Library, the Yahoo! Developer Network explains the heart of the problem their parent created. Instead of reinforcing a sense of ownership and agency, this unnatural locution feels presumptuous and alienating. It is as if the user has printed out labels and stuck them to various objects: My Lunch, My Desk, My Red Stapler. Except the user hasn’t done this; you (the site) did it for them. This is lazy design and branding. It’s bad style. And it sucks. So, let’s unsuck it!

Where’s it gonna go? Away.
The site or app speaks in the first person plural “we”. (In general, “I” takes you to that creepy HAL 9000 place. It’s the uncanny pronoun. Avoid.) The interface addresses the reader as “you”, or by name. Things belonging to the people who run the site, such as a privacy policy, are “ours”. Things belonging to the user, such as a profile, are “yours”. Anything that is just a part of the overall experience, doesn’t necessarily need a possessive pronoun at all. That’s all you need to know. Go forth and suck no more.

Quit Yer Douchin· http://unsuck-it.com/

Additional persuasion to help you break the habit
Writing interface language is like writing dialog for a play. You want to make it clear who is speaking at all times. Being clear, as well as appropriately conversational, goes a long way towards making the whole experience engaging and successful. Mint.com receives a lot of praise for their design. Many of those good interface design decisions are language decisions.

It’s not Mamet, but this construction adds humanity and a sense of service.

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22/9/2010

It’s not Mamet, but this construction adds humanity and a sense of service.

Mule Design Studio’s Blog: Super Uns…

Sometimes you need to give the user their lines for their part of the interaction. Typically this takes the form of a button or otherwise selectable statement. Here’s a swell example of some complexity from YouTube:

So far, so good. But what about the persistent labels for objects you want your users to own? We can torture the metaphor a little more and call them the props. Well, if we are talking to you, then these things are yours.

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So natural! So friendly! So easy to maintain a helpful consistency. It’s perfectly fine to use no pronoun at all. Plenty of websites get by just fine with an “Account” tab. Even Microsoft has relabeled the traditional My Computer icon to Computer with the introduction of Vista. But if you don’t follow this guideline, if you succumb to the peculiar temptation of my, you just set yourself up for totally unnecessary inconsistency.

And, should you decide to brand a whole section of your site with “My”, you aren’t really branding the experience at all. You are inviting your users to draw an analogy with something another company did over a decade ago. It’s a missed opportunity, and that sucks.

Written by Erika Hall on June 8, 2010 |

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11 comments so far. Add yours below.
peterme says: Everything old is new again. http://www.peterme.com/index081098.html

June 8, 2010 7:18 PM

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Anil says:

Mule Design Studio’s Blog: Super Uns…

Oh man, Peter's post takes me back to before blogs were allowed to use images to illustrate their points.

June 8, 2010 7:32 PM

David Hoffer says: Just ran into this exact problem...again. Now I can point my customers towards a reasonable argument against my. Thanks for your post and thank you peterme for your post, which also reminds me of my age. Which is old.

June 9, 2010 8:01 AM

Popomaster says: The fonts on unsuck-it.com render terribly on my computer. Looks really ugly. It seems to be the only website with this problem.

August 12, 2010 6:04 AM

darwyn4 says: I'm currently working on a website and I was just wondering wether i sould use "My" or "Your". thanks

September 21, 2010 4:34 PM

darwyn4 says: missed an "h" there :D

September 21, 2010 4:36 PM

gregory says: this is a cool article. Are you aware that all the links in your header lead to 404 pages? For example

September 21, 2010 4:42 PM

Ezra says: @Anil: Also, comments!

September 21, 2010 5:19 PM

Avand Amiri says: Glad to find a nice reference for this language, although you don't address one part of design: calls to actions. Facebook follows the imperative mood (e.g. "Connect," "Like"), which I kind of like. Thoughts?

September 21, 2010 6:16 PM

Tim says: Ha! Re: Creepy first person singular COULD NOT AGREE MORE. :) http://nothingelseis.posterous.com/im-sorry-dave-im-afraid-i-cant-do-that-1

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Mule Design Studio’s Blog: Super Uns…
September 22, 2010 4:23 AM

Barry Jaspan says: So "My" sucks but "Your" does not suck? Sorry, My BS Detector is firing. Or is that Your BS Detector? I like the part about not using a pronoun at all. "Account". "Photostream". Now you aren't forcing it on me, telling me I own it one way or another. You are just telling me it exists and where I can find it. Simplicity!

September 22, 2010 6:16 AM

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