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Some user interfaces feature titles such as:

  • My documents
  • My photos
  • My previous orders

While others opt for:

  • Your documents
  • Your photos
  • Your previous orders

Are their any guidelines addressing which is more suitable to pick in different situations? Is one more preferable than the other?

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7 Answers

According to Dustin Curtis "My X" makes the interface an extension of yourself whereas "Your X" makes it more of a social creature. To quote him from his great Yours vs. Mine article:

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.

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It doesn't matter... much.

What you choose will not "kill" the overall experience either way. My suggestion is to find & solve for the bigger experience issues you have. (Or if this is your biggest problem, congrats on a great product!)

However, what will kill the experience is if you:

  • Switch back and forth between "your" and "my" with no rhyme or reason.
  • Over do it and apply to too many items/labels. Only apply to things which the user outright needs or wants to differentiate as their own possession, separate from that of others.
  • Inappropriately attribute objects to the user, when in the real world, it's not technically "theirs" or if pointing out the association may be cause for personal embarrassment/shame/distress.

Examples of what not to do:

  • "You have added 3 items to your My Cart."
  • Labeling a nav item as "My Dashboard" when in fact the user will only ever see one dashboard, as opposed to being able to see other users' dashboards. (Same could apply to the "My Cart" too - ever try pushing multiple shopping carts at a store? I have! Don't do it.)
  • When Amazon recommends me items based on purchases I made for others (not really for me) or reminds me there are twenty other products on the market to treat my STD (for example).

Hope this helps!

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Your last example of "what not to do" is confusing. How does that relate to the "my" vs "your" question? –  norabora May 17 '13 at 17:31
    
It's just an example of the use of Your/My to things like the "Recommendations for You" feature on Amazon.com - and cases where it doesn't truly fit the person 100%. Does that help? Happy to clarify further as needed! –  Karen TL May 17 '13 at 17:48
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Absolutely. If you have access to the book Designing Social Interfaces by Christian Crumlish and Erin Malone I suggest you read the chapter on My/Your.

Or you can read about the pattern online.

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In short, if the word causes confusion, search for a different approach.

In case of "my Photos", it could be replaced with {usersname}'s photos for example.

You can easily test this by asking people what they think is meant. If you get a lot of different answers... something is wrong.

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Empirical user testing is always a good option indeed. –  kontur Jan 3 '13 at 14:25
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In my mind, it's your choice. There's no big difference between your, my or neither, just try to use consistent labeling.

Colleen Jones—Partner and Interactive Experience and Communication Consultant at threebrick; UXmatters columnist on Generating Ideas | Your Versus My in User Interfaces:

From a usability perspective, I have not seen much difference in task performance based on choosing your or my modifiers. [...] From a rhetorical perspective, I like including your or my modifiers for personal information to create a friendly tone.

Christopher Fahey:

A brand that has a personality that sounds like the product is a person, or speaks on behalf of a group of real people (like Flickr, which even says Hello to you), it makes sense to say "Your." But for brands that position themselves as an almost cybernetic extension of your personal infospace (like MySpace or Windows), "me" and "my" might actually make sense. In fact, consistency is probably the paramount rule here.

Yahoo! Design Pattern Library suggest to use your to label personal objects in social sites (Source: Your vs. My), but notes that my works fine for private, individual environments.

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Don't use My or Your. In most cases it's obvious whose they are.

The only case you might want to do it is to differentiate e.g. between the user's documents and everyone's documents. In that case I would follow the Microsoft guidelines cited by Michael and use "Your Documents" and "All Documents".

One of the worst UI bloopers in Windows XP is the use of the prefix "My". It's ridiculous: want to see your photos? Look under "M" for "My Photos". Received files? Look under "M" for "My Received Files". It's like the old joke about the secretary who files everything under "T" for "The Payroll", "The Rent", etc.

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Benett - I absolutely agree on the Windows XP example, but I'm not sure the same rules apply for website/app navigation. People generally don't use the same UI methods to find things on a website as they do in their filesystem. –  snipe Mar 16 '10 at 0:51
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In an OS, it's horrible, yes. However, "your" is particularly useful for intranets like SharePoint, where you can customise elements to the user. For example, you can expose group tasks lists on a landing page to show just the tasks assigned to that user, so the use of "Your Tasks" removes ambiguity and improves usability. –  Alastair J Mar 16 '10 at 15:31
    
This this this this this. A "My" or "Your" Is only useful in an environment where it's possible to have documents that aren't yours, in which case you should be saying who they belong to, which should have it's own folder entirely called say "Steve", filled with things like "Documents". –  VoronoiPotato Jan 3 '13 at 14:07
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MS Windows User Experience Interaction Guidelines suggests the following:

  • “Use the second person (you, your) to tell users what to do.” So use second person for error messages, help, window or page labels, on-page documentation, and other places where the app is telling the user about the user’s content.

  • “Use the first person (I, me, my) to let users tell the program what to do.” So use first person for buttons, menu items, and other controls where the user commands the app.

Note that this means you can have first and second person on the same page. You can label a list “Your photos” but have a button labeled “Publish my photos.”

These guidelines imply that containers for objects such as documents and photos should be titled “your” since it’s the program addressing the user. Yes, Microsoft itself apparently was not following these guidelines from Windows 95 through Windows XP. Maybe they changed their mind.

All that said, the correct answer to your question may be to not use either “My” or “Your.” Unless you need to differentiate between content under user control and some other content (e.g., community documents or photos), the best title is simply the class of content (e.g., “Documents” and “Photos”). Labels should start with the most distinguishing and informative words so users can easily scan for them. Cluttering your labels with low-meaning words like “my” and “your,” (or “view” or “manage”) makes it harder for the user.

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I would think "My Documents" follows what Microsoft advises, since it is my way of saying "open this file." –  tajmo Apr 24 '12 at 15:36
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