The Mythical User

Taking the mystery out of User-Centered Design

Welcome to The Mythical User

on 14 March, 2008

Through the mist, a brilliant light cuts a swath of whiteness. Somewhere impossibly far away, a black speck mars that perfect shining bar, and as it grows you realize a person is walking toward you, as if the light were a solid path. The figure grows and you see it – average height, average clothing, average income, average age, indeterminate gender. As celestial choirs of angels sing, you realize you are in the presence of the Great and Holy User.

Okay, so maybe it’s not like that in the real world.
The reality of user interface design is that rarely do we ever get to consult our users even a fraction as much as we should. Whether the company is large or small, startup or mature, UI design is often given only a token nod in project plans. No matter how trained the project or product manager is, they always seem to forget up-front research. So, we, the mockup monkeys of the world, resort to our weapons – industry standards, emerging best practices, and least tangible of all, instincts.
Then there are our engineers.
We love these people, don’t we? Some of us started out as developers, others are headed that direction eventually. Regardless, the people who receive and implement the pretty pictures that designers make are often so removed from the User that it seems like a myth, wrapped in mysterious symbols and color-codes and head-shaking illogic. We, the designers, often take on an evangelistic role, preaching the Greater Good of the Lowest Common Denominator from our soapboxes like southern roadsermons – but hopefully without the polyester suits.

If this sounds familiar to you – if you’re that beleaguered designer, mystified engineer or even a user who can’t fathom why his voice isn’t heard, you’re in the right place. Stop in, kick your feet up, and join in the discussion. Together, we’ll build a more usable world.

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