Humans aren’t robots. Why do we talk to them like they are? Photo: JohnGreenaway
Humans create websites for other humans to read. So when did we start talking to people like they’re robots? Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen this message on your computer screen:
“FATAL ERROR: Wrong address.”
Or some other equally horrific text. Instills confidence, right?
Changing the copy, and even the way it’s displayed, is such an easy fix, and becomes an opportunity to create a more pleasant user experience (UX). UX generally refers to how a person feels when they interact with a website or a computer program. Thinking more holistically, it can also refer to when you’re enjoying your Starbucks or riding the bus to work.
Getting back to our example above, we should avoid blaming the user whenever possible. Soften the copy, reposition the error, and present it as:
“We can’t seem to find that address. Please try entering it again.”
Said this way, the onus is on us, the creators, and doesn’t make the person using our stuff feel bad, or stupid.
One way to address this issue before someone even sees this error is to have an experience persona document in place. An experience persona informs what the UX looks, feels, and sounds like - and ensures that everyone, from engineers to editors, designers to developers, has a central place, a roadmap of sorts, to create a well-crafted interaction. It empowers everyone on the team to delight users of your product, service, or website.
Each of these things is an experience, an opportunity to delight people.
Hollywood Tower of Terror lobby at Disney California Adventure. Photo: Loren Javier
Disney does a great job of creating memorable, immersive experiences. Even when you’re doing something mundane like waiting in line (or queue, as our friends across the pond would say), the attention to detail shines through. Take the Hollywood Tower of Terror, for example, a free fall attraction based on the TV show The Twilight Zone. Upon walking up to the ride, you’re instantly transported from sunny Southern California to a creepy place where something’s clearly gone wrong. From the vines crawling up the columns to the dust on the desks in the hotel lobby, they’ve thought of everything. This makes the time spent waiting in line somewhat interactive, and puts you into the right frame of mind for what you’re about to experience.
Taking that holistic view is how we approached MyGov.
The research behind the MyGov experience persona
Caption: Beautiful day for research at Library of Congress. Photo: source
Project MyGov’s goal is to reimagine the relationship between the government and the people, taking what is currently an agency-focused model and making it more centered around people’s needs. We decided early on it was critical to the MyGov UX to study how the government historically communicated with people, and how people talked to the government. To that end, we conducted research at the Library of Congress and National Archives. (It also informed the MyGov design and UI.) I’ve spent time pouring over the research in order to create the experience persona.
We’re grateful to Eric Frazier from Library of Congress, who took the time to carefully curate our session in the Rare Books and Special Collections Reading Room. Artifacts such as an original Democratic Party ticket and a document from the Colony of New Hampshire helped us understand how people communicated back then. We also studied the old WPA posters, created under Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and produced between 1936 to 1943.
Bruce Bustard over at National Archives gave us a fantastic, in-depth tour of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Yes, we made the obligatory National Treasure reference when we checked in on Foursquare. (And no, we didn’t do it.)
There was a bit of an a-ha moment when looking at these posters: back then, they had to get across a great deal of information in a small space. Generally less than 36 inches by 24 inches, with a large graphic and few words. It’s kind of a nice tie into today’s social communications, specifically Twitter, where you also have a small space (140 characters) to tell get your point across.
MyGov experience persona highlights
An original Democratic Party ticket and Colony of New Hampshire broadsheet. Photo: source
There are six parts to an experience persona: Overview, Brand Traits, Personality Map, Voice, Visual Lexicon, and Engagement Methods. A few bits highlights called out below. (Hat tip to Aarron Walter for his design persona template - it rocks!)
Eleanor Franklin sets the tone for the MyGov experience - what it looks, feels, and sounds like. Her warm demeanor communicates trust, and her approachable nature lets people know this experience is centered around their needs. Ellie, as she’s known, always welcomes people with an easy to understand, conversational tone that calms folks during what can be times of intense change. The classic style lets people know that MyGov offers timeless experience that isn’t subject to the whims and tides of whatever’s “in” at the moment. Ellie likes to give people information that may be useful to them, and she enjoys helping them get stuff done.
We chose the name Eleanor because it’s a classic, strong name, but can be modernized by shortening it to Ellie. Franklin is a nod to Benjamin Franklin, a Founding Father and relentlessly curious soul.
Trustworthy and friendly rose quickly to the top of the list for us. It’s equally important, though, to have non-examples. So while the MyGov experience should come across as a fresh, it shouldn’t be trendy. Personable, but not creepy. Grounded, but not stodgy. You get the idea.
The voice of MyGov is conversational, warm, and above all talks to people in a way that you might overhear a your corner coffee shop. The voice always uses “we” and “us” to show it’s working alongside the person to complete the task. MyGov would never say something cold or robotic, and prefers “won’t” over “will not” because that’s how humans actually speak to each other. And while you won’t see MyGov getting hung up on “she/he” when a “their” sounds more conversational, watch out: the word nerd comes out when “there/their/they’re” show up in the experience.
The way we talk to people, the words we choose… they’re important. So instead of Date of Birth we’ll ask, “When were you born?” And rather than Home address there’s “Where do you live most of the time?” Because talking to someone how people really talk to one another is important.
We also consciously say person instead of citizen whenever we can, because we realize that not everyone who interacts with the government is a citizen. We also try not to use the word users…but freely admit that old habits die hard.
We’re hoping MyGov helps you navigate your way around government - a sherpa, of sorts - and helps you do what you came to do. But in a friendly, Ellie-like way, and not like a robot.
View the full MyGov Experience Persona.