While I am designing, I always have this quote in my mind.

You are not the user

In this blog post I simply want to describe how I think about it. Explain why it is so important to me. And discuss how it makes me think differently.


It’s not my quote. It’s a quote from Don Norman. He is a famous American researcher. He influenced how we think about design. Especially User Centered Design or also called the User Experience.

The statement in the quote is so simple but powerful. It tells you everything you need to know in 5 words.

Thinking and Assumptions

To keep it simple. If you think you can assume what the user wants and how he will act, then you are already wrong.

Here are just a couple examples:

  • If you think or assume the button is clear to the user. You are wrong.
  • If you think or assume the user does like the colour. You are wrong.
  • If you think or assume the user will understand the website navigation. You are wrong.
  • If you think or assume the user is used to websites and can understand your design. You are wrong.
  • If you think or assume that it is clear to the user what he has to do on the website. You are wrong.

If you’re not comfortable with these statements. You probably are thinking to yourself: “Why am I wrong?” It’s not because these statements ultimately cannot have a piece of truth inside them. It’s because there is no evidence. It’s a thought. An assumption. It’s a claim without evidence.

Testing and proof

If you want to go from being wrong to being right. You need to offer evidence to a claim. To demonstrate the evidence you need to test. A test with a real user. Not a persona.

By proving that an assumption is right, we can validate our idea.

Let’s demonstrate how we can test and provide evidence to our previous examples.

  • Claim: The button is clear to the user.
    • Proof: I tested a prototype with a user and they were able to reach a predefined goal.
    • Proof: I have conducted an A/B test with our current button description and a new version.
  • Claim: The user does like the colour.
    • Proof: I tested a prototype with a user and they were able to reach a predefined goal.
    • Proof: I have conducted an A/B test with two different colour themes.
  • Claim: The user will understand the website navigation.
    • Proof: I tested a prototype with a user and they were able to reach a predefined goal.
  • Claim: The user is used to websites and can understand your design.
    • Proof: I tested a prototype of the website with a user and they were able to reach a predefined goal.
  • Claim: It is clear to the user what he has to do on the website.
    • Proof: I tested a prototype of the website with a user and they were able to reach a predefined goal.

Patterns instead of proof

What if you don’t have the resources to conduct user research before or while developing a product?

This is a real scenario for many projects. In this case, I would follow established patterns of User Experience Design. Design it as simple as possible. Especially if the demographics are very varied and involve all age groups I would recommend: “Even your grandmother should understand it” and that’s the right attitude for that case.

If the demographics is young and is already attached to modern technologies, go further. Be bold.

Follow established patterns that are accessible for the targeted demographic.


Further readings