Designing for “You”, rather than “The User”

We live in a world that caters to us.  When I go on Amazon, it suggests products I might like.  Our thermostats ‘remember’ what temperatures we like at what type of the day.  Websites can remember passwords, privacy settings, and advertisers choose specific advertisements to display that they think I will be interested based off my interactions with the site.

We do pay a price for this customization: our privacy.  Right now, the internet world is up at arms against how much information a company can learn and use about us. They track what we click on, what we view, how long we view it, what we view multiple times… they want every bit of information about you that they can get.  We pay for small conveniences with privacy and people aren’t so certain that is a fair trade off.
Yes, advertisements on websites are very annoying, particularly when it is something that you actually think “Hey, that is kinda of neat” but then you remember its an advertisement and you are angry with yourself for being taken in by it.   But beyond advertisers, is there something bigger that can be done with this information?

Right now, we design for the user.  Not “a” user, “the” user.  Not everyone is “the” user and the next step for better user experience is be able to design for “a” user.  This would entail that users to again agree to give up their privacy and be tracked.  But the benefits of a well designed system to caters a website to a user, I feel, would greatly outweigh any resentment I felt at them ‘spying’ on me.

What if, as a left to right reader, when I visited a website, thanks to these tracking methods, it instantly shifted into left and right reading patterns?  Or instantly translated the website to my language? What if I only visited the Purdue Owl site for the References pages and the site pushed the corresponding link/button to the top instead of making me scroll down and find it in a list? And, what if I had to option to drag something on a website and it would remember where I wanted it?  This, is what I hope the next step will be.

The problem lies though in that while some people would find no problem with a website rearranging information to suit your preferences, the system could still be abused. Even with the best of intentions, the information that site creators would gather would also be available to those wishing to manipulate the user.  Ad’s will be placed where you most look or click. It could exchange your commonly used links with ones that direct you where they want to go.  And this is a sad state of affairs.  Until we decide how much information we are willing to part with to companies, and what is acceptable and what is off limits to be done with the information, I think user experience will be stuck with designing for “the” user and not “You”.

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