Don’t put yourself in user’s shoes

“When designing something, put yourself in the user’s shoes.” That’s a well-meaning advice. Many user experience (UX) people say so. I am a UX-person too, but I disagree with that. Let me tell you why.

Users should be in the center

The main idea of user-centered design is to keep the user in the center. Design must be based on understanding of users, their goals and contexts of use.

But that understanding does not come by imagining what you would do if you were the user. Understanding comes from user research. If you go out there, observe and interview users, that’s when users really are in the center. If you sit on your desk imagining what users would do, that’s when you and your thoughts are in the center. Not the same thing, you see?

UX cartoon: How to put yourself into user's shoes


As a user I want…

One particular area where I’ve often seen imagination override research are user stories. You know those short, simple descriptions of a feature told from the perspective of the person who desires it:

As a [type of user], I want [some goal] so that [some reason].

Don’t get me wrong. User stories are great when they are based on facts about user. But they can be harmful if they are based on imagination.

UX cartoon: user-scented design

So don’t put yourself in the user’s shoes. Instead go out there and watch real user’s shoes. Well, don’t watch their shoes but interview and watch the actual users.

Don’t imagine users’ needs, research them.


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