Friday, July 17, 2009

I hate ‘users’

Users are Humans, not users. The word ‘user’ is looking at people through a product lens as if their purpose in life is to use that particular product. But users are not users. Users are human beings of flesh and blood who behave in predictably irrational ways, with real goals and dreams and jobs and most importantly of all, with other things going on in their life than using our product.

It can be a bitter pill to swallow when you pour your heart into your work, your oeuvre, the application that will solve these users every need and then being told that your application is less important, a lot less important to these people that you could hope and wish for.

Don’t get me wrong. Not thinking about the people who are going to use your product in some way is just fundamentally wrong. But on the other hand, when we talk about User Centered Design today, it sounds as old fashioned and as inhumane as Business process reengineering.

Do I have an alternative? Sure, it is about building on Don Norman’s concept of activity centered design, having the right understanding of how human works, and Dan Ariely and  Dan Lockton both add significantly to that understanding, and then we must talk to actual people who will use actually the product, and we must keep talking to these people throughout the product cycle.

But really, it starts much simpler than that. Instead of saying “what will the users want?” say “what will the people who are going to user our product want?”. It is a small change, just a few more words, but I find it really changes how you think.


All of this may seem a little abstract. A friend of mine pointed me to this Argentinean example of adapting to real people.

Summary: In Argentine Pepsi is pronounced Pecsi by a significant number of people. Pepsi embraces that and launches Pecsi.

I love it. Instead of trying to reinforce the name, they change it to what people call it anyway and play on it.

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