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(Disclaimer: I am a programmer, not a designer, but I care about good design and good language choices.)

In a mobile UX, when guiding the user through a multistage process, is it better to say "We need to do the thing" or "Thing needed"? It seems to me that the active voice "we" is always more wordy, and for some reason sounds slightly pathetic, so I personally prefer the passive form.

I am 90% sure that when the Material Design guidelines came out a few years ago there was a bit in the 'Writing' section about how "we" should generally be avoided. If that guideline ever existed it has since been removed. And when I google the issue I find recent articles arguing in favour of "we"!

What changed? Are there any rules or accepted wisdom for this?

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    and for some reason sounds slightly pathetic - I couldn't agree more. An application is not a person. It should not act as if it were. – Marc.2377 Aug 2 at 2:07
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    Would be nice to add some concrete examples. I assume this is, for example; "Thanks for submitting, we'll review and get back to you" – Richard Tingle Aug 2 at 8:41
  • @RichardTingle He gave an example: "Thing needed". That seems to be referring to something the user needs to provide (e.g. a required input field), not something the application or service provider will do. – Barmar Aug 2 at 19:20
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    I know it irritated me to no end when an older version of Microsoft Outlook (I think) used "We" in a pop up dialog box. Made me feel like there were a bunch of tiny people inside my computer. – Mark Stewart Aug 3 at 1:37
  • "Material Design guidelines" which ones are you referring to? Is that an ISO/IEC standard? If so, please provide a number. – Mast Aug 4 at 15:29
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As you mentioned, the old Material Guidelines, which you can find here: https://material.io/archive/guidelines/style/writing.html, says to avoid it:

Avoid the pronoun “we”. Focus on the user and what they can do with your app, rather than what you or your app is doing for the user.

But it really depends on the voice and tone of your brand and the way you want to communicate with your users. If you have some guidelines on this, great. If you don't, you could use a guideline from a brand that has similar values, for inspiration. You can search for voice and tone guidelines here: https://adele.uxpin.com/, just add the filter "Voice and Tone".

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    UX is a conversation with the user. We is problematic because it can sound didactic and patronizing. Using we where it doesn't have those connotations is less of an issue. For example "We have received your resume." is a perfectly fine message to use to confirm an upload. Don't write your help docs like a text book: "from this we can see that one must always fill in the 'purpose' field if the 'type' field is set to 'tool'." – daotoad Aug 16 at 20:43
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If it is on the interface, active form is direct, succinct and less confusing. It is better to go with 'Click here to…'. A lot depends on the Content Standards of the organisation. The content standards will state how formal and direct can the business language be. enter image description here

(source)

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    How does this answer the question about "we" ? – mascoj Aug 1 at 22:18
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    @mascoj its the answer to the question 'is it better to say "We need to do the thing" or "Thing needed"?'. "Click here" being the thing The implied remainder of the "It is better to go with 'Click here to…'." sentence being 'rather than 'We need to click here to ...'". – GeeTee Aug 2 at 13:44
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    Clear, concise and useful, but leaks security information. ("Wrong password") – Robert Harvey Aug 2 at 22:09
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    @snugghash, separate notices for invalid user vs incorrect password will get you dinged on a security audit. If you say the password is wrong, then you've given an attacker information that the user is correct. Unless you return the invalid password message for a wrong user also, in which case you're lying to the user, and frustrating them when the password they know is correct doesn't work because there's a typo in the username. It's a situation where there is no simple solution that is both secure and concise. – barbecue Aug 3 at 16:16
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    The problem is that there's no simple, concise way to describe all the possible scenarios: User typed wrong username OR user typed wrong password OR user typed correct password but didn't notice caps lock is on OR there's a problem with the authentication service OR etc. That's how you get things like We don't recognize your login credentials which brings us back round to the whole "we" question. – barbecue Aug 3 at 16:27
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Apply user-first design

As with almost all UX, it's more useful to go back to first principles than to argue about rules.

For example, with UX language:

  • Simple is better than complex
  • Get rid of unnecessary words and qualifications
  • Focus first on what the user needs to know to grow her experience, not corporate branding, your belief system, how cool the features are, etc

Applying these principles, you can get to language guidelines that are good for your application. Doesn't matter whether you write them down formally or use them casually. Often this looks like:

  • We isn't often used in UX, because it simply isn't necessary when you can omit it or replace it with the user:

    • e.g. We advise you to press this button because XXXClick to do XXXX
    • e.g. We thought you might like these products...You might like these products...
  • We is a more familiar and personal term than Corporation X, so if you do need to represent the corporate view, it can be more familiar/relational to use We, e.g.

    • ACME protects your privacy by encrypting your....We protect your privacy by....
    • Sometimes lawyers don't like this because We isn't as specific as ACME Corporation. In this case the discussion is academic because it's not really a choice at all.

Hope that helps.

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As has been stated, an application is not a person, so the application generally should not say 'we'.

Two exceptions:

  • Sometimes, esp. in a wizard, the user is being taken through a series of steps; here a more personal tone may work well, like: 'Let's start with..', ..'Now we need to wrap things up by..'. - The logic here is that the app and the user work together as a team.

  • The other case is when it isn't the appilcation that is talking but the company or the team that created it. Theses entities consist of persons and it is quite natural to write: 'We are pround to present..' or 'Feel free to contact us, we always welcome feedback' etc.. - For this to work the company name should have been mentioned before using the pronoun.

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This.

But it really depends on the voice and tone of your brand and the way you want to communicate with your users. If you have some guidelines on this, great. If you don't, you could use a guideline from a brand that has similar values, for inspiration.

As Aline and Ren said, it's about clear, concise, useful.

Going back to Rueben's original example,

"We need to do the thing" or "Thing needed"

It's actually better to just say "Do the thing."

"Thing needed" is passive voice and generally not the best approach for interaction writing (there are some exceptions).

"We need to do the thing" depends on the context, what the thing is, and again, if it's on-brand to use that pronoun. It's not proper to say across the board a company should use "we" in copy. It's all about the brand voice.

I work for a financial services client and we use "we" sometimes ("We'll call you to confirm..."), although infrequently.

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Applications referring to themselves as people or acting like people is one of those design solutions that programmers made without user testing. The funny part is that it was supposed to be a UX solution.

Look around at all the software, sites, and applications that have tried this in some form or another and removed it.

Also, it's a lot of effort. Think about how every single interaction will have to have this added effort and requirements. Depending on the level of interactions, you could spend more effort on this than the interaction.

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