The other day in studio I overheard a conversation about the exploitation of users time. The context was that there’s only so much of it business can ‘mine’, so at some point we’ll run out of time to get our products in front of people. I found that throughout this conversation the way the terms ‘exploitation’ and ‘users’ were brought together really rubbed me up the wrong way.
As interaction designers, we spend our time trying to craft something worthy of engaging someone’s attention. On the surface, this may sound similar to exploiting someone’s time, but carries a completely different mindset for both a project and it’s audience. Brad Burnham of USV, who spoke with our Entrepreneurial Design class a couple of weeks back, captures the idea well in how he speaks about old and new media. While old media’s audience is viewed as either customers or crooks, new media’s audience become ‘co-creators’ and a vital part of a product or service.
This distinction is really important to me, and the language we use everyday to discuss our work inevitably frames the way we perceive it. I think Don Norman says it well,
Words matter. Psychologists depersonalize the people they study by calling them “subjects.” We depersonalize the people we study by calling them “users.” Both terms are derogatory. They take us away from our primary mission: to help people. Power to the people, I say, to repurpose an old phrase. People. Human Beings. That’s what our discipline is really about.
Words Matter. Talk About People: Not Customers, Not Consumers, Not Users
I want to live and work in a world where we are actively engaged with our audience, not taking advantage of them. Seeing the people I design for as rich and complex yields many more exciting opportunities than reducing them to a set of eyeballs with a credit card. Norman’s use of the word ‘people’ may be a little to general, but surely we can come up with something with more dimension than ‘user’.