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?

10 Answers 10

(edited 11-12-2017 after comments below)

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.

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.”

This is consistent with what a user learns in the physical world, where the reader of text is “listening” to what the creator or owner of the text has to say, so the reader is “you” (e.g.., “We appreciate your business” on an invoice, “Your speed” on a radar speed sign, and, of course, any instruction, like “RSVP”). However, there is an exception for text artifacts that are handled by the reader as a form of communication back to the creator/owner (e.g., a contract, waiver or oath will begin “I, [PRINT NAME], agree that…”). That is like a command button label.

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.

Even when you do need to differentiate user content from others, you may want to avoid “my” and “your” because in certain situations it can be unclear if it refers to the user or the computer/ program/ website, or creator thereof. Links can be problematic. Consider a website for someone who writes and posts Game of Thrones fanfic, and invites her readers to post their own too. There’s a link for “My Stories” and “Your Stories.” Which is for the user and which is for the website owner? I believe some users will read the “Your Stories” link as “click here for your stories,” so they expect the users’ stories. Other users will read “Your Stories” as “show me your stories,” so they expect the website owner’s stories.

Or consider MS Window’s “My Documents” folder, which, at first, I’d say is direct violation of Microsoft’s own guidelines. But that assumes users perceive the folder to be a container labeled by Windows, so Windows should be “telling” the user it’s Your Documents, not My (Window’s?) Documents. However, some users may have a more interactive attitude and see the folder icon in the tree of Windows Explorer as a button that commands Windows to show the user's content, so it’s saying “(Open) My Documents.” If I buy and display an “I love my dog” bumper sticker, then it’s me talking about my dog, not the sticker-maker manufacturer talking about its dog. Likewise, some users may perceive they bought Windows (regardless of what the license says), it’s their workspace, so any labels therein are now them declaring their own respective ownership, so it should be My Documents. There’s a similar problem with social media web sites. Some users may perceive themselves posting on the web site’s page (so it’s “Your Posts”), while others perceive the web site “gave” them a page for their respective posts (so it’s “My Posts”).

If your program/ website doesn’t “own” any documents, photos, orders, or whatnot, maybe all users can figure it out whether you use My or Yours. Or maybe not –do all of them know there’s nothing there you own? You can avoid the risk of ambiguity by consistently using [Username’s] Documents, if it’s necessary to differentiate.

  • 5
    I would think "My Documents" follows what Microsoft advises, since it is my way of saying "open this file." – Taj Moore Apr 24 '12 at 15:36
  • @TajMoore I agree with Taj Moore that in fact, Microsoft's use of "My Documents", "My Computer", "My Photos", etc, does actually fall within their definition of "tell the program what to do" and conveys ownership, e.g. "Show me my photos". I feel like the interpretation of MS's guidelines in this answer is actually incorrect. – pilau Nov 9 '17 at 15:27
  • @pilau & Taj: If you were wearing a t-shirt that said “My t-shirt,” should I conclude that it’s mine just because I’m reading it? When users are just looking at something passively, like looking at the file manager, they're "listening" to the program. So the folder title should be "Your." Users are "talking" to the program when actively commanding such as through clicking or tapping, so the menu item to open the folder should be "My." – Michael Zuschlag Nov 10 '17 at 13:13
  • @MichaelZuschlag I wholeheartedly disagree. You're comparing an item of clothing which is a vehicle of self expression of and for the wearer, to a user interface which is a tool in the hands of a user. So your comparison IMO is completely false. Finally, yes, in their minds, users are talking - but they do it in a 1st person voice. That's why a user would think "I'll go ahead and open my photos", or in an imperative voice: "Open my photos". Nobody thinks in the POV of the PC. I disagree that browsing a filesystem is a passive activity, and like I said "my" denotes ownership & command. – pilau Nov 11 '17 at 6:16
  • The fact that we have this disagreement tells me there is ambiguity in my-vs-yours, and it should be avoided in general. I’ve updated my answer to include this. – Michael Zuschlag Nov 12 '17 at 21:56

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.

  • 8
    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
  • 1
    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
  • The example you cite is only a problem in and OS where a user may search for these items. The questioner was asking about user interfaces where location is more important for finding things. Lots of websites and apps use the "my"/"your" paradigm to convey a more informal/closer relationship with the user. – Andrew Martin Apr 11 '16 at 14:52
  • 1
    The Windows XP example is a problem with how search results are queried, not in the UX of language. They could easily ignore the "My" in the query. That's an example of bad UX in the search execution, but calling it "My Photos" is probably better than "Photos". Using "My" or "Your" adds personalization to a UI and is a good idea. I would fix the search behavior way before I depersonalized the UI. – lusus_vir Jan 26 '17 at 22:46

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.

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!

  • 3
    Your last example of "what not to do" is confusing. How does that relate to the "my" vs "your" question? – eleanor.mal May 17 '13 at 17:31
  • 2
    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

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.

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.

I apologize for the lack of references, but in my opinion (and from viewing social websites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like), they rarely say 'Your' (even more rarely say 'My') unless it is to prompt the user.

If you're viewing a settings dropdown/spinner there is no difference to the user when you see 'Account' or 'My Account' or 'Your Account' so for simplicity's sake, I'll choose 'Account'.

The only time I see 'Your' is when the site is directly trying to reach out to you and have you complete an action like Facebook's 'What's on your mind?'

  • 2
    I hate both "My" and "Your" so I appreciate your justification for using neither. – Ken Mohnkern Aug 22 '14 at 23:08

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.

  • Empirical user testing is always a good option indeed. – kontur Jan 3 '13 at 14:25

I read in a style guide (sorry, can't remember which one) that it's better to use 'My', since it puts the user in the driver's seat — they are the center of action, they are the ones doing things.

Whereas 'Your' sounds like someone else is speaking to them, which makes that someone else the center of action. That's probably the wrong model for software — the user and the software are not having a conversation. The user is using the software as a tool to perform a task.

Besides, most web sites I've used use 'My', so consistency is another argument in favor using 'My'.

Choose your words carefully. If 'my' or 'your' is of help to clarify by all means use it. Otherwise don't. Less words mean the remaining words gain attention and importance. There is also the representation of the real meaning of the possessive pronoun :-). What about:

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