November 2011
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Day November 8, 2011

My, Yours or Neither…That is the Question

About a week ago I reached out to the Twitters and my friends in UX to see if they knew of any research to validate the use of “my” or “your” before a title to suggest personalization. Friends, the Twitters and Google all turned up the same article by Yahoo! developers. Though it’s a great article for deciding “my vs yours”, there’s not too much on whether to use them in the first place.

In theory, adding a possessive prefix (“my” or “your”) before a title explains to a new user that the section is personalized. In practice, I’ve seen those same users confused by the possessive label as they haven’t knowingly personalized anything or to whom the pronoun was suggesting. Then there is the repeat user, once they interacted with the section do they still need the possessive prefix to understand the section is personalized? This begs the question if the prefix actually helps users (both new and repeat).

For example, in my current project, a mobile app, there are a few sections where the user can get access to their personal content (favorites, bookmarks, communications, etc). Early in the project I was asked to add a “my” before each of these section’s titles to showcase the personalization (such as “my bookmarks”). I complied, with the caveat that I didn’t think the pronouns are necessary and may remove them in later versions. As the project has progressed this issue has resurfaced more than a few times.

I have my opinions on the matter based on my experiences and observations, and though my UX/design friends echo these observations it’s not substantive enough to suggest a best practice or as non-biased recommendation. Some of the observed issues included:

  • confusion of ownership for content with the possessive prefix (ironic but true)
  • assumptions that items with the prefix were the only place to find personalization
  • UI littered with “my/yours” prefixes
  • awkward and confusing phrasing when talking about sections with a possessive prefix (such as “go to my bookmarks to find things you’ve bookmarked”)
  • implied branding of sections using the prefix (often as a way to deal with the awkward phrasing)

Again, in my experience the problem has never been as simple as adding a possessive prefix and poof, problem solved. In the case of my project, it lives on a user’s phone, meaning the favorites, bookmarks, etc. are only ever going to belong to the user. So the possessive seems unnecessary at best and confusing, placating, or misleading at worst. How have you dealt with this issue? Do you see “my” and “your” as a benefit or a curse?


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Links: Yahoo! Developer Network – “Your vs. My”