When people say 'humanise' an interface, what exactly do they mean? Or is there a more formal word to this idea.

The word 'humanise' sounds vague to me. It could mean several ideas if not taken literally. I read from a few places but the concept is still not clear. Does it mean to simply give the interface a name, kind of anthropomorphise an interface to give an impression that it has a life?

What are the key features of a humanised interface and why are people 'humanising' interfaces? How should a user feel when interacting with a 'humanised' interface?

6 Answers 6


Humanized interfaces make use of heuristics, emotional design and humanized copy to make an interaction with a computer feel as natural as possible.


Humanized interfaces try to explain errors in a helpful way, and prevent users from causing them whenever possible. Instead of a message like "504 gateway timeout" twitter throws out this message:

enter image description here

This explains what is wrong and what the user can do about it in simple language and leaves them with an amusing (and representative) image to hopefully soften the blow.

Emotional Design

Mail Chimp uses Emotional design to make a typical service (email advertising) into something unique and interesting.

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The interface cracks jokes via the avatar and creates a very strong brand around this avatar. The book Designing for Emotion from A Book Apart goes into detail on Mail Chimp's success. Mail Chimp offers the option to disable the wisecracking interface in case users find it annoying; less than 1% of users have disabled it. You could call that a success.

Humanized Copy

Google's Good to Know campaign is a great example of this. What could be a very technical lecture turns into an easily understandable conversation about your privacy, security and data on the web.

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By explaining things in conversational, simple terms Google helps explain the important points without going into confusing technical details. The simple copy helps engage users while telling them what's important to them.

  • 3
    +1 That saves me answering then ;-) I would heartily recommend anyone interested to read Aaron's above mentioned book Designing for Emotion where he passionately describes the need to design for humans via emotional engagement. Aaron says he's not fond of the term human computer interaction but strives instead to facilitate human-to-human communication where the computer recedes into the background, and personalities rise to the surface. Jan 31, 2012 at 15:47
  • Interestingly, just curious why isn't personification or anthropomorphism one of the properties of humanised interface?
    – xenon
    Jan 31, 2012 at 17:27
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    @xEnOn just plastering a human face on the interface has proven a largely ineffective way to interact with people; they're called Embodied Agents, and people have been hating them since Microsoft Bob. Making an interface humane is different from just sticking a human avatar on there. Human avatars introduce too many of their own problems; uncanny valley, annoyance ect.
    – Ben Brocka
    Jan 31, 2012 at 17:43
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    @codeinthehole All of these are parts of the interface; copy guides them through the interface, heuristics are how you react to or prevent errors caused by the system or the user, and emotional design certainly applies to the interface as well as the wording. The interface isn't just buttons and panels.
    – Ben Brocka
    Jan 31, 2012 at 19:07
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    "less than 1% of users have disabled it. You could call that a success." Or call it a "not visible enough option", I've been using Mailchimp and this is the first mention I see to this option. I would be the 99% anyway. Feb 1, 2012 at 13:13

I'd say that humanizing an interface is to design so that the application understands the user rather than having the user to bend his habits to use the application. In short : "The more it's used, the better it gets".

For instance:

  • personalized default values,
  • no beginner/advanced mode,
  • integrate into the way of living of the user rather than forcing its way in,
  • no more long term learning plan. Push for intuitiveness, predictability etc.

This is the core of the "User" Experience.

  • Is anthropomorphism of user interfaces part of humanising an interface since it may "alter" the user experience and somewhat "humanise" the interface to a certain extend too?
    – xenon
    Jan 31, 2012 at 14:04

A humanized interface is one that feels more like a helpful and kind human than a lifeless, cold computer program. Good software is like as a good personal assistant: it doesn't get in your way; it anticipates your needs; it does what you mean, not what you say; and it pays attention to details you may have overlooked.

On his blog, photographer Brad Moore describes what makes a great assistant to a photographer. And although the article is not talking about computers at all, it's exactly what you want from good software. Read this as if it were a manifesto for the personality of your software, and imagine replacing each instance of "the photographer" with "the user."

In my opinion, three things… Attitude, anticipation, and attention to detail.

If you have a great attitude, that will go a long way… it makes each day easier to get through and gives them one less thing to stress about.

Being able to anticipate the photographer's next move is also key. Knowing how they think through not just a shoot, but through problems that arise will allow you to have something ready without them needing to ask…

Attention to detail… When assistants learn the photographer’s shooting style, likes, and dislikes, they can help keep an eye on how things are going. With the photographer’s mind (and eye) being on multiple things at once, there are sometimes things that they don’t notice that an assistant can pick up on and point out (in a discreet, non-distracting manner, especially if the client is on the shoot as well).

Obviously knowledge of the gear is important too, but I think these are probably some of the most important but most overlooked things that help make a good assistant.

Notice how at the end the article says that the technical knowledge needs to be there too, but that the human attributes (attitude, anticipation, and attention to detail) are more important and are often overlooked. The same is true for software. We often spend so much time getting the technical details right while overlooking the most important attributes: what we can do to give our software a human touch.

Have some personality

Just like with your personal relationships, you want to interact with software that has a pleasant personality. You have to decide which personality is most appropriate for your application, but most people like to interact with people that are warm and friendly, maybe even light-hearted.

Do what I mean, not what I say

Good software will try to read between the lines. It tries to interpret what you intend, which may be different from what you say. It will make reasonable assumptions based on what it has learned about you, and it keeps a memory or your interactions so you don't have to repeat yourself.

One example: when you mistype something into Google like [hmuanised interfaces], it guesses at what you meant, just like a helpful human would do. It doesn't throw an error, it doesn't show zero results, it doesn't imply that you're stupid, and it doesn't draw any more attention to your mistake than necessary. It kindly says that it's "Showing results for humanised interfaces" because it interpreted what you meant, not what you said.

Screen shot of a mistyped Google query

Keep track of the details

A good assistant will keep an eye out for details you might forget so you can focus on the big picture. It will check for errors for you, fixing them when appropriate or just telling you about it otherwise.


A humanised interface takes account of human-centred concerns. Goal-focused design provides a typical method for ensuring these concerns are met.

The problems posed by a de-humanised interface traditionally stem from interfaces that have been produced by developers.

From a developer's point of view;

  • the way a program is implemented will be driven by specific technological concerns.

    • they might make use of specific classes, data structures, methods or subroutines, in order to divide an application's functionality in a logical manner.

    • as a result, when they consider how their application should function, they'll often think about how its code achieves that functionality.

  • It's possible to directly translate a developers implementation (based) model into a UI. Many developers have.

  • This kind of implementation model is popular with developers, as it directly reflects the way a developer conceptualises the program. However programs which follow this model of development are often unpopular with users,

    because ..

From a user's point of view;

  • the way a program is implemented bears little relevance to his or her motivation to use the program.

  • Users care mostly about the way a program functions in terms of their own conceptualisation of the problems that need to be solved.

  • They need to be able to carry out tasks, which collectively allow them to achieve larger goals.
  • The application workflow will ideally follow their own mode of working and will fit into their other daily activities.
  • None of these user-centred concerns necessarily share similarities with a developer's implementation based approach.

The best way to ensure that the interfaces you produce are 'humanised' is to ensure you follow principles of goal focused design.

Research and understand the problems that your users face - and try to design a system that tries to remain sympathetic to the way they work.


Gates said once: " User-friendly software is the software that has a writing on the box :User-Friendly". I am afraid, many managers take it so.

I agree with Alconis, I will only try to put my understanding of the term in my words. First, we should, as always, distinguish the targets and the ways of their realization.

I say, the software should be nice to the user. It means tactful. It means, the app should be user's good and very intelligent friend, teacher and servant. So, it should:

  1. Bring the help before the user himself understands he need it
  2. Help him and speak to him on his level and according to his understanding
  3. Do not provide information useless for user
  4. Do not punish him. Any action should be reversive.
  5. When the user is new to the app, he doesn't know about some of his needs yet. He will understand it later, when he'll comes to these needs by work. So, the functionalities should be arranged so, that easier ones will be right at hand and the more elaborated should not be right at hand.
  6. Simply be polite. Use good, literate language. Maybe with humor, but no sarcasm. If he sees your error, he should see your escuses.
  7. Speak to him in his language. Localize. Again in good, literate language.
  8. Not make him to repeat the same thing twice.
  9. App should have understandable and full help, that should fulfill all these requirements even more strictly
  10. App should have the reachable, polite, qualified and ready support.

Of course, it is the ideal, but IMHO, we should try to be closer to it.


I feel that a human interafce would be the one that puts the end-user's need in the first place, and I guess it's best to illustrate it with an example. A good website design which allows you to acces the core funcionality without excess data presentation is somewhat humane. The cockpit of a space shuttle, or a nuclear control panel, are inhumane, because their main goal is to serve the system, not the user (though, of course, if you get right down to it, the user is the one getting served one way or another).

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