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Currently we are designing a task management system that notifies users of current tasks they need to complete and about the status of tasks they have assigned. We are struggling with using "You" versus (for example) J. Smith on tasks.

In the following example, your name is J. Smith, and you need to check this system to find out what tasks you need to do, and to see if the tasks you have assigned are completed:

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The next scenario is exactly the same, you need to check this system to find out what tasks you need to do, and to see if the tasks you have assigned are completed, however in this example, the table says "You" instead of J. Smith.

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Which one is easier for the users to identify? We are currently leaning towards the "You" option, but we were wondering if there was any research on this topic?

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    If the list is sortable by Assigner, would "you" be sorted as "you" or as your name? – Ken Mohnkern Jul 31 '15 at 16:39
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    If the name was You it would be an easy decision to make ;) – Marvin Jul 31 '15 at 16:47
  • The list is able to be sorted @KenMohnkern – Nickar Jul 31 '15 at 16:59
  • If there are many users and it's possible for duplicates then I would expect to see "J. Smith (you)" – Ashley Medway Aug 3 '15 at 14:10
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Using the word "you" should generally be reserved for descriptive texts that address the logged in user. For example, you would say "You have 1 task assigned to you" to illustrate that the user has a task pending, but in a grid of tasks and various status values, it would look more consistent to have the user's display name instead of just "you." If you wanted to call out items assigned to the logged in user, consider using a different or bolder color, or a bold font. This helps the user identify tasks assigned to them visually faster than simply using the word "you."

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There isn't any "better" solution to this which applies universally, but generally I would err on the use of "You" rather than the person's name when addressing them or referring to them when they are reading. Partly this is because I favour a casual form of address in applications, but there are some other reasons too:

Tone

"You" presents a more personal tone than using a name. Just consider the following sentences (assuming your name is Jane Doe):

  • Would you like to order?
  • Would Jane Doe like to order?

While this may seem like a silly example, it illustrates that using someone's name when you're addressing them, in many ways treats them like you're referring to them in the third person.

Clarity

I often have multiple accounts, and some of them have different names. I don't always remember which name my current account has (my nickname, full name, first name only, common username, etc.). And so showing me my name doesn't help very much in terms of quickly recognising myself as that user. However, "You" does just this. I know that when reading something that refers to "You", that I am being referenced. It's faster and clearer than using my full name.

  • Thank you! That's kind of what we were thinking, too. It seems like it would be a lot easier to pick out "You" than J. Smith, and it adds to that personal level of intimacy with the user. – Nickar Jul 31 '15 at 16:56
  • @NRSELINC Especially if there are two J. Smiths - or even two John Smiths. – David Aug 1 '15 at 17:38
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I think it's key to take into account exactly what sort of UX is going on in the app. Some situations where "you" is definitely not appropriate:

  • Signup form for a company, not an individual
  • Management tool where the individual's settings are not the focus - eg. managing a calendar or an admin interface for a website
  • Any interface where the admin is in a list of names where the names might need to be exported and it's not important for the admin to recognise their involvement - eg. a company has a backend to organise their roles/salaries. The admin does not need to see "you" in this situation because it's a formal list and "you" breaks the administrative tone quite strongly.

That said, I think that using "you" in shopping situations, most forms and a lot of websites that require users to interact on a personal level is almost always a good way to go. It's a good way to start drafting microcopy if you imagine yourself actually speaking to the user, in which case you would definitely address them as "you".

Using "you" also helpfully avoids lapsing into the passive voice which is really important. Consider:

  • A message has been sent.

vs

  • You've sent a message.

Now consider...

  • A payment has been made.

vs

  • You've made a payment.

Addressing someone as "you", in the right situation, can not only make them feel clearer about what is happening/what has happened, but it also puts some agency on the user which can stop them from feeling like "the website broke" and leaning towards something more like "oh, I made an error", which can be helpful for building a sense of trust.

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