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You are your users

Designers and UX professionals are always told that “you are not your user.” That’s true but it’s not entirely accurate.

Unless you’re working in a very specific, niche industry – of which there are many – chances are you do qualify as being one of your users. I spent most of my career working in news/entertainment media and now I’m working in ecommerce, and I’m a consumer of both outside of the office. So yes, that means I qualify as being a user, a customer.

We are told we’re not our users but in the same breath we’re told to work on products that make you¬†excited. Design and build things to solve your problem, don’t worry about the masses. So which is it?

It’s both.

Start with me, end with them

Take the “me” approach and apply it to the “them” problem and you’ll have a very good starting point. You can do all your user research with interviews, surveys and so on but unless you’re solving a new problem, chances are your own experience and frustrations are enough to get a good, solid first version in front of people.

You need something to start the conversation and that something isn’t a democratic design doc or sketchy wireframe. That something needs to be usable, that something needs to be touchable. It’s something that gives a response and creates an emotion. That’s just one of the many powers designers have: getting people talking.

How many times have you been in a meeting that asks the questions, “what do we want?” And how many of those meetings turn out well? Few. When you come with a fleshed out opinion in the form of a functioning prototype or whatever, you’re making a statement. You’re giving your opinion – with gusto – and that will be met with feedback, both positive and negative…and that’s the point. It’s better to come to the party with a bad idea than no idea at all because even that bad idea will spark something good.

Part of being a designer is just knowing. Knowing what will work and what won’t. Knowing when something needs to be simplified and when something needs to be more complex. You have your gut, use it. If it turns out to be wrong, great, change it, that’s okay…that’s the other part of being a designer, accepting other ideas and finding the balance between them all.

Quit spinning wheels

Data is great and it should be used to help make your decisions but it shouldn’t take the place of your own experiences and feelings. Unfortunately, often your professional design opinion doesn’t hold up to well in court so having data can help make your arguments stronger but don’t let them overshadow what you know to be true (or false).

Talking theory about what will work and what won’t is fun and all but it can also waste a lot of time. The overhead for creating something tangible is practically nothing these days so there’s no reason to not have something usable for your first round of discussions. A tangible experience will guide your next round of feedback for the better.

Every person is different but in most cases, yes, you are your users. That doesn’t mean you stop at your vision but that doesn’t mean you start with everyone else’s.