You may or may not be your user. But back it up.

One of the reasons why I really enjoy attending academic conferences is for the immensely diverse range of people who attend. On top of that, regardless if that character is an undergraduate or a tenured professor, everyone has something valuable to contribute. That’s why they’re attending (whether they know it or not).

At the time I’m writing this article, I just returned from a happy hour meet-and-greet for the 2016 SIGDOC conference being held in Silver Spring, MD. During the 2 hours that I spent there, I was able to meet and speak with a handful of intelligent and talented academics from institutions across the nation. During one particular conversation, we touched on a popular education app called Remind — a tool that allows students, teachers, and parents communicate with each other.

At one point, I said that I was curious how this efficiently this app worked for students and parents with various levels of tech savviness. The individual I was speaking with, Douglas Walls, responded with another question, “Do you have data to back that up?”. Honestly, (and unfortunately) I do not have data that supports my claim that various levels of tech savviness can affect the efficiency of this app as well as other educational apps.

So as the evening progressed, that conversation kept popping back up into my mind. I am bothered that I did not have a proper response to his question. However, on my bike ride back to the hotel, I thought about a common debate in user experience about whether or not one should design products/services in the image of the designer — A.K.A. are “you” your user?

Articles such as “The User Is Not Like Me” by Whitney Hess, “Myth #14: You are like your users” by UX Myths, and “You are not your user” by 52 Weeks of UX all assert that no, you are not your user. It is not in the best interest of the project nor fair for users to simply assume their identity and needs. However, Jared Spool’s “Actually, You Might Be Your User” complicates this argument by saying that sometimes the designer is part of the audience they are designing for.

In my own work as a Learning Experience Designer, User Experience Developer, and undergraduate student, I have been part of projects where I needed to juggle the interests of multiple audiences at the same time. Often, I play it safe and do not assume myself as the user. However, there have been times — specifically on projects that will be used by undergraduate students — that my work will eventually be in the hands of my undergraduate peers and even myself. At those times, is it safe to assume myself as the user?

Regardless, tonight’s conversations point to something that those articles don’t explicitly address — have evidence for why or why not your project should be designed with you as your user, or both. In retrospect, my claim came from a combination of being a tech savvy student with non-tech savvy parents and speaking with peers that have various levels of savviness with parents of various levels of savviness.

Not only is having empirical evidence part of good user research, it can also minimize ambiguity for developers, designers, and stakeholders about who the project’s audience is.

As with everything, tonight was an excellent learning opportunity. Thank you, Douglas Walls, for keeping me humble and a good user experience architect. I am very much looking forward to more conversations with you and many others over the course of this 3-day conference.

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