You Are Not The User: A Lesson In User Experience Including Supporting Research Results


At a recent Nielsen Norman Group User Experience (UX) Conference in Las Vegas, they gave us attendees few fun UX-related stickers. My favorite is a simple square one that says, [tweet_dis]“YOU ≠ USER.”[/tweet_dis]

What a profound statement! It succinctly sums up how the UX field believes designers, writers, researchers, “decision-makers,” and others should approach any project.

[tweet_dis]“One of usability’s most hard-earned lessons is that ‘you are not the user.’[/tweet_dis] If you work on a development project, you’re atypical by definition. Design to optimize the user experience for outsiders, not insiders. The antidote to bubble vapor is user testing: find out what representative users need. It’s tempting to work on what’s hot, but to make money, focus on the basics that customers value.”

Jakob Nielsen in Growing a Business Website: Fix the Basics First.

You are not the userPersonally, this slogan has been my mantra for many years, albeit in longer more convoluted words. I plead with leaders, clients, etc. to understand the end goal. Ask yourself who we are designing for.

Us? Or, our users?

[tweet_dis]We are completely biased. We know our industry and assume others think as we do.[/tweet_dis]

User Experience Case Studies

I remember working within a hospital system where I built the departmental subsites for various uses. Some were to recruit young physicians who would do their fellowship or serve their residency. Others were to entice prospective patients to consider them. I could go on and on.

The “decision-makers” knew what they wanted. Many of the leaders were doctors—very knowledgeable in their field, often the best of their field. Unfortunately, they thought as physicians.

UX Research Example One: Navigating The Website

I conducted extensive research for a website project. This required interviews and watching patients navigate our site in the main hospital’s atrium. One of the specific tasks I asked was, “Your throat has been bothering you for a week, and you think you need to see someone about it. Using our website, how would you find the proper experts to assist you?”

Many could navigate the top-bar navigation and would look under “Departments.” Sadly, they couldn’t intuitively find what they needed. Many resorted to utilizing the search engine.


They were accustomed to the lay-term of “Ear, Nose, and Throat”. Instead, they glossed over “Otolaryngology,” which was the technical term for basically the same thing. The physicians didn’t want to change the name. They felt it had been that way “forever” and it would only confuse patients.

[tweet_dis]Too often, “decision-makers” want things as they view them and not necessarily what’s best for those they are trying to serve.[/tweet_dis] They just do not realize it. They missed one important point — the user experience matters.

UX Research Example Two: Recruiting For Medical Residency

Another example was the difficulty of assisting the Graduate Medical School (GME) Department trying to recruit prospective top-notch doctors to participate in Residency. But, there was a gap in age from the “decision-makers” between them and those they were trying to recruit. They failed to understand the need for some “cutting edge” technologies and concepts because these new doctors were more cyber-oriented than others.

[tweet_dis]Despite conducting surveys that supported my research and assertion, it was determined that it was frivolous and unwarranted.[/tweet_dis] Examples were provided of competing institutions website audits, and again, the powers did not want to go with the recommendations.

There are times when I often look back and wonder—if they went with my research recommendations, would the conversion rate have increased with those they were trying to attract?

I guess we’ll never know.


No matter [tweet_dis]whether building a website, an app, a better tree house, or a boat, the bottom line is that to achieve the best results, we must understand our limitations.[/tweet_dis] We think we know best because it’s our passion. But, when it comes to users, it’s so difficult to fathom that we’re not the only users and sometimes, we don’t know what’s best.

  • Conduct your research diligently.
  • See for yourself.
  • Watch the process.
  • Participate in the process.
  • Don’t assume.

Who knows—your end-product might be the next award-winning website, the hottest selling house in town, the most-viral video in the world, or whatever your goal is. You just need to know how others think, act and behave.

Anything short of this may have you wondering in the future, “What if?”

[tweet_dis]Don’t be that person.[/tweet_dis]

Recommended Books On User Experience:

Guest Contributor Don Hill - Digital Experience Evangelist

With nearly 20 years experience in digital marketing and another decade in psychology, Don Hill utilizes his passion for improved human-computer interaction experience with intuitive design to create a positive digital experience. Whether websites and web-based or stand-alone digital applications, Don's insights and implementation has improved conversions, digital brand identity, and all-around experience.

Don earned his BA degree in Sociology with a minor in Communication Studies from Texas Tech University and has continued staying atop the latest technological advances. He's earned his User Experience Certification (UXC) and nearing completion of his UX Master Certification (UXMC) from the reknown Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g).

His works have been published in numerous publications including the New York Times and Houston Chronicle. Don also enjoys kayaking, traveling, photography, genealogy, his wife and two young daughters, and of course, his dog.
Guest Contributor Don Hill - Digital Experience Evangelist

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