I heard the Rod Stewart song “Forever Young” yesterday and the following lyrics reminded me of something I have thought about in the past:
And may you grow to be proud
Dignified and true
And do unto others
As you’d have done to you
I put emphasis on the lines that I am most interested in discussing. The phrase “do unto others as you’d have done to you” is sometimes called the Golden Rule in America. It’s a great rule because it works for a lot of situations where people interact. For example, would you prefer to cross the street or get hit by a car that didn’t stop for you? If you’re the driver of the car, treating the pedestrian as you’d like to be treated if you were the pedestrian in that situation is a pretty good idea. You wouldn’t want to get hit the next time you’re a pedestrian.
However, what if the pedestrian wants to get hit? Perhaps he is mentally ill, depressed, suicidal, or looking to sue the first person he can find that hits him for medical benefits. In that case, he wants to get hit, but you still probably don’t want to get hit. So, the Golden Rule breaks down.
The above example is somewhat contrived, so I can provide a slightly more innocuous, yet realistic, example. Over at GiantUX, Tom Greever writes about a time when arrogance got in the way of his design process. I think all designers and developers can relate to this experience. We think we know what’s best for our applications’ users. However, we are not our users. So, even with the Golden Rule, we may try to build something that’s wrong for our users because that’s what we would want to use (“as you’d have done to you”).
Fortunately, there is another, lesser known rule out there we can use: The Platinum Rule. The idea of the Platinum Rule has been around a while–see the criticisms section of the Wikipedia entry for the Golden Rule for a brief overview. Simply put, the Platinum Rule states “do unto others as they would have done to them.” The wording difference is small, while the implications are huge.
I think the Platinum Rule is very important for user experience practitioners, especially. You must build applications that users want, not that you want. And it must work in a way they want it to work. If you like modals and carousels, that doesn’t matter. Find out what your customers really want and how they want to interact with your application.
On a more serious note, I think this goes far beyond user experience design. It’s a general principle to guide most of your interactions with others. Yesterday, TechCrunch published an article on a female designer leaving GitHub due to a hostile work environment. I think situations that involve sexism stem, partially, from the assumption that one sex (in this case, men) knows how the other sex (in this case, women) want to be treated because they know how they would like themselves to be treated. Again, the Golden Rule breaks down.
So, let’s focus on utilizing the Platinum Rule to build better software and to build better relationships with other people.