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You Are Not Your Users

If there’s one big thing I took away from Usability Week, it’s that you are not your users.

It’s a mantra every Web publisher should repeat constantly — in fact, you might want to even write it on a Post-It note and leave it in plain sight.

I run into this problem a lot with people who come from the print media world. The old school of thought is that you put out your product, take a survey or two of your audience, and make a change when necessary. But for the most part, your product is your product — you get to define it as you want.

When it comes to Web publishing (especially in the B2B world), your definitions are not always the same as your users. From Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox:

A simple example: Many sites use segmentation, in which users must click through to the appropriate site segment. Unfortunately, these segments often don’t match the way customers think of themselves, and thus require them to peek through multiple site areas to find the right one. Even a simple segmentation such as company size isn’t obvious. What counts as small? Better sites will annotate their choices with a definition (stating, for example, that their small business segment targets companies with less than 100 employees).

Your users come to you for a specific piece of information — the sooner you give it to them (and the easier it is for them to find it), the more likely they will come back to you.

Real estate sites are horrible at this. We’ve been looking for a bit now, and are generally annoyed at the lack of information (pictures, etc.) given on realtors’ Web sites.

From their viewpoint, they want you to give them a call to find out more. But as a user, you want to gather as much information as possible before making that call. It’s frustrasting when you can’t.

The next time you think about re-organizing your site or restricting the amount of information you present, remember: you are not your users.


  1. It emphasizes an innate flaw in web news sites, blogs in particular… Content is mostly presented in a reverse chronological order. Not by topic, popularity, or relevance. In tech, it’s maybe less of an issue because obsolescence comes quick – but what about cars or book reviews? I remember talking to folks about this three years ago, and I don’t think we’ve made much improvement (as a blogger) – it’s all so linear.

  2. I love to hear about other people whose eyes our opening to the world of usability. Have you looked at Garrett’s “The Elements of User Experience” or Cooper’s “The Inmates Are Running the Asylum”?

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