In 2005, I wrote a blog post entitled, “Is 'user’ the best word?,” followed a year later by “Words (and definitions) matter; however…” The debate about the words we use in our field and their meaning has continued since that time, with many of the old arguments being resurrected. For example, regarding the beleaguered term “user”:
- Jack Dorsey dropped its use at Square, arguing that it is a rather passive word that “is a massive abstraction away from real problems people feel on a daily basis. No one wants to be thought of as a 'user.'”
- Margaret Gould Stewart revealed that Facebook sort of banished the term saying it is “kind of arrogant to think the only reason people exist is to use what you built. They actually have lives, like, outside the experience they have using your product.”
- Natalie Nixon argued “the next time you begin to ask about your users, stop. Reorient and remind yourself that you are solving problems for people. That subtle shift in language will do wonders for your sense making skills and build a different sensitivity to the challenge at hand.”
- Eric Baumer et al. argued that studying non-users is as important as studying users and stated that “only two professions refer to their clients as users: designers and drug dealers.”
I still can’t imagine the term “user” going away anytime soon. Indeed, some have defended it, as reflected in the following tweets:
Nevertheless, there has been an increase in the volume of objections to the term, reflecting, I think, a recognition of the need to think bigger — to consider and design experiences beyond the digital in order to design the best possible digital experience.