Is it mine or yours?

June 2, 2013

When designing the interface for your application the exact wording often comes later in the process, once you have some wire frames complete and a basic app up and running.

But once you’re up and running, what is the wording you should use when referring to items that belong to your user.

For example: how do I refer to the user’s tasks in the interface for CronHQ? Are they My Tasks, or Your Tasks?

I like clean, consistent, natural interfaces. But I can’t tell which of the two options above seem more natural, both the use My and Your seem to flow for me as I’ve seen both used through out the internet. I didn’t know which one seemed more natural. And that bothered me.

Twitter refers to the user’s profile as My Profile and Google refers to what could be the user’s Google+ account if they were signed in as +You.

Twitter is in the "My" Camp - Google is in the "Your" Camp

However some services such as LinkedIn omit ownership altogether.

LinkedIn using no pronoun

What’s the difference?

I think the Dustin Curtis nailed it with his blog post “Yours vs. Mine” where he goes on to explain that the use of Your indicates that the interface is communicating with user whereas the use of My indicates that the interface is an extension of the user.

After thinking about this stuff for a very long time, I’ve settled pretty firmly in the camp of thinking that interfaces should mimic social creatures, that they should have personalities, and that I should be communicating with the interface rather than the interface being an extension of myself. Tools have almost always been physical objects that are manipulated tactually. Interfaces are much more abstract, and much more intelligent; they far more closely resemble social interactions than physical tools.

The answer for me, then, is that you’re having a conversation with the interface. It’s “Your stuff.”

This alone will puts me firmly in the Your camp but there is another reason.

The interface is always communicating with the user. For example, with error messages like Sorry you didn’t specify an email address, how are we going to contact you?, the interface is communicating what went wrong to the user.

Why switch contexts and become an extension of the user just because we’re talking about the user’s stuff?

I believe consistency is king. Either it’s all an extension of the user, or none of it is.

You have more than two options

So I’m going to use Your over My but why even go that far with applications where the user is unaware of other users. Why even specify ownership? Unless the user can edit or view someone else’s profile, it’s pretty obvious that the profile theirs. Just call it profile.

It’s your stuff if you’re not sure who it belongs to

The answer for me is that it’s Your Profile but if it’s the only profile around and ownership isn’t ambiguous then it’s just Profile or in my case Tasks.