I try not to use the term ‘user’ anymore. I really strive to not use it. Instead I talk about ‘the people we design for’, or about the ‘people who will use our software’. I think the term ‘user’ implies that these people are defined by using our software and I think that leads us to design for them as if that were true. As a concrete example, every time we talk about designing for the application being maximized to the screen, we commit the hyperbole sin of assuming using our software is all these people do.
The word ‘user’ is also symptomatic of what I don’t like about personas. Personas are made up people and I have a hard time relating to them. I am sure they are made up of real user data, but they are made up from the point of view of someone designing for them and usually make us, the product team, look more important than we probably are.
I like designing for real humans because when all goes well, it helps these people, it has a positive impact on their lives. I think that is the main reason I have a hard time with personas. I can’t impact them, I will never make them have better lives, and they will never call me up or write a blog post about how our product is better than what they had before.