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October 01, 2015

People Matter, Not Users

October 01, 2015

In the field of user experience, the word “user” is ubiquitous (heck, it’s in the name of the field itself!). It’s used to describe all manner of people who might be using a website, a product, an app, or even a service.

Think about the user.
What will best serve users?
What do users need? 

These are great areas of focus, and I love that businesses and organizations seem to be thinking about “user” needs now more than ever. I see more work centered around deeply understanding those needs, research based in getting to know people, and processes that put humans at the heart of the work.

But let’s look at the definition of “user”:

  • a person who uses or operates something, especially a computer or machine
  • a person who takes illegal drugs
  • a person who manipulates others for personal gain

Ugh. All of these sound so cold. We’re definitely not talking about the latter two definitions, right? And as users ourselves, we're doing so much more than just using a computer or machine, right? We’re trying to engage, seeking out information, looking for growth, trying to get something done, and maybe even trying to feel less lonely (to varying degrees of success, thank you, social media). People are behind this. Not “users.” Living, breathing humans with desires and emotions and a vast array of experiences that contribute to their perception of the world.

I think it’s more accurate to say “visitors” or “audience” or “doers of things” (okay, maybe that one needs some work). But using active verbs (“user" feels incredibly passive and generic) to describe the doing goes a long way in making the descriptor far more human. The generic “users” makes it easy to keep distance from the individual.

It is our job to know their needs, in and out. To feel their pain, to know their passions. To recognize that sometimes, those pains and passions might not be far from our own. And we seek to fold all of that knowledge into creating something of value for them that makes their lives a little bit (or a lotta bit) easier.

We do that for people, not users.

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