'my' vs. 'your' in interfaces

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I'm an interface designer and a proponent of using the word "your" on the screen for labels and buttons. Some that I work with are proponents of "my" for those items. This is an interesting issue for me because the Microsoft "standard" is "my" but to me it makes more sense as "your."

Here is my rationale, and I appreciate other's insight. I am a user who is using a tool to accomplish a task. The computer has my information, and has avenues to let me get to my information. The computer is my servant, and should therefore say, "Here is your information." For example, "(Here is) Your Account. (Here are) Your Preferences. (Here are) Your Last Five Searches"

What do you think? Should precedence overtake what is more correct, or do you think it's already correct? Thanks!

-- Anonymous, April 17, 2001


I think the "my" thing is an attempt at pandering to the lowest common denominator. I think the designers believe people will see "My Files" or "My Whatever" and will be delighted at all the attention that is being lavished on them by their computers. Me, me, me! It's all about my stuff! This is great!

Personally I think posessionless descriptions are fine. "Documents" rather than "My Documents." Maybe I want to put someone else's documents in there? Do I have to create a new folder for that?


-- Anonymous, April 17, 2001

I don't like either My or Your used in interfaces, I'm not even very happy about using 'You' in dialogs, as in 'You haven't entered the splinge box' or 'You have successfully saved the document'.

What seems like a method of engaging the user tends to patronise the user and their motivations. A user certainly isn't fooled by the spurious familiarity in the long term and may well just end up insulted.

My general dictum of 'We are not here to be nice to people' holds just as much in user interfaces as it does in providing support. The point is to give accurate, cogent and relative information for the user to then make their own decisions.

That's not to say that the user should be treated as an automaton either, the alternative to 'Are you sure you want to exit?' is not 'Exit?' but to intelligently provide mechanisms whereby even if the program exits and the user wasn't expecting it (because they hit the close box accidentally), that their work is left in a state that they can pick up later.

-- Anonymous, April 18, 2001

See Peter Merholz: http://www.peterme.com/index081098.html

He hates "my" as being infantilising. I agree.

-- Anonymous, April 18, 2001

Thanks for the great answers, and especially for that last link. I also agree that dialog boxes do not need to ask questions as a human would.

I would say, however, that for items that the computer (or server) has that are customized to the user, saying "Your Account" is better than "Account" or "Accounts" because it makes it clear that in one click they will see their information, and not go to some generic account-finding system.

So, try to avoid either, especially in messages, but if you do personalize a link or button, prefer "Your" to "My".

Thanks again for the responses. Keep 'em coming.

-- Anonymous, April 18, 2001

I mainly do web work. I have found it works to do My Account or My Tasks due to the majority of web users being familiar with My Yahoo and similar services.

My 2c

-- Anonymous, April 19, 2001

"Your" might be a complication in internationalization, when going from English to languages which have formal and familiar forms of "your". Using the wrong form might be a bit of a faux pas in some cultures.

I don't know if this is a problem in _practice_, but it seems like it could be one.

-- Anonymous, May 05, 2001

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