In the responses to my proposal to use the second- person perspective in interaction design documentation, Oleh Kovalchuke brought up an excellent concern:

The flaw with this approach is that “you, the developer” have different cultural background/ experience/ expectations than “her, the blog reader”.

This is one of the reasons for creating and referring to personas.

Good point. Using the word “you” in documentation can risk implying, if only subconsciously, that the reader of the documentation — usually a developer, designer, etc — is the same person who will actually use the system.

Still, I think I have a workaround. If the whole point is to foster empathy for the end-user of a product, explicitly demanding that the developer think of themselves as a user. Maybe a better formulation would be more literally like a traditional “Choose Your Own Adventure” literary model, prefacing and contextualizing the whole document and process around role-playing:

“You are Beth, the frequent shopper. You click SUBMIT and then click OKAY in the confirmation dialog box.”

By frequently reminding the developer just whose shoes they need to continually imagine themselves in, the second person is given this missing context of projection.

But what if we took it one step further? Most of the best designers I know have an amazing degree of built-in ability to imagine themselves actually being their customers and actually using their products (and conversely, the worst designers are borderline Asperger’s sufferers, with little ability to even imagine another person’s perspective).

Perhaps another approach, then, would be to require the designer him/herself to write in the first person, role playing as the user, writing a real-time account of using the system.

“I am Beth, the frequent shopper. I click SUBMIT and then click OKAY in the confirmation dialog box.”

Food for thought. Has anyone seen or used documentation using these alternative perspectives (second and first person?)

(Next: Me vs. You (vs. i) )


3 responses to “You vs. I”

  1. Take a look at one of the podcasts from SXSW 2007. The panel was called “Your Web App as a Text Adventure”. I think you might find it interesting 🙂

  2. I guess I wouldn’t feel wrong about using the first person when describing how a user would flow through a system. I already do it everyday when communicating with clients both visually and over the phone.

    I’m sure you’ve walked the same path of trying to convey personality by saying “Lets suppose I am Beth. I open the site, I click…” and so on.. Never done it on formal documentation, but I don’t see a reason not to. Second-person on the other hand may feel a little too odd because it makes assumptions about the reader, which I don’t like to do.

  3. @J. Bradford: Thanks for the tip, I missed that session but I am grabbing the podcast now.