Make for people, not users. A call to arms.

When did ‘people’, became ‘users’? In every tech revenue report, website launch, and app video we’re referred by ‘user’. It seems companies and their employees refer to us as dependant, complicit, cannon fodder. Which is kind of funny, because their products reflect that! I guess I am ‘food’ for them. 😅

This is a write up about our common word usage and the influence it has on the way we do our job and the way our products and services are shaped.

Somehow we commonly use words like ‘users’, ‘consumers’, ‘members’ en ‘citizens’ when we actually are talking about ‘people’. Using these words is caustic to our designs, products and services, because #wordsmatter.

Here’s one of the most funny replies I got from @adamcurry


Users are mouth breathers

In the back of our heads we process data differently when we use the words ‘users’, rather than something relatable as ‘our neighbours’, ‘john, of accounting’, or even ‘swimmers’. Even using “personas” have put a distance between us and the people we try to reach, or make things for.

As a result we tend to hesitate, or just not know who we should talk to in our design processes, and if the people in our ‘target audience’ are the right match with that magical persona unicorn. It was meant to relate behaviour and preference, but it failed miserably.

Why don’t users care?

As a prime example our pension fund friends are without exception blind for the elephant in the room: nobody cares about the pension until it’s ‘too late’. All because they do not know who they are making for: people with more on their mind than that automated financial transaction.

They are just focussed on their financial products and the baffling feedback that people are discontent, but don’t want a dialogue. It’s an industry that found they lost their relevance. No ‘user’ test, ‘persona workshop’ will ever fix that.

Context is bigger, better and untapped

We need to consider people as people with way bigger contexts than ‘users! These contexts more than: just ‘holding the phone’, or ‘paying the bill’, or ‘exceeding the subscription’, or ‘willingly passing on their most intimate details via devices’, or ‘content grazer’ and subsequently ‘banner watcher’, ‘rule follower’, ‘tax payer’.

In stead we should be talking about people with lives, half distracted by your smelly dog, being ‘hangry’ in a long supermarket line, people that fart, communities with problems, mothers with emotional moments in the park, students with crushing debts, children overcoming ailments, or people dying without family, or strangers accidentally creating new life in the back of the 1998 Opel Kadett.

When we say user, we say: dumb f*ck

These words: ‘user’, ‘consumer’, ‘citizens’ represent something totally different. They are defined by a narrow, dumbed down grazer, mouth breather, complicit drone, or sometimes a mysterious group of unicorns, willing to spend copious amounts of money for exclusivity or inclusiveness.

Our clients ask of us to trade with them via ‘seamless’ interfaces and to ‘make them go’ through websites and talking tubes. Rather than doing research of the behaviour and needs of people, we try to a-b-test the button to make more money, but who are we kidding really.

Who do we design, make and create for?

Regarding people in antiquated words is not sustainable! We should do more. We shouldn’t design, build and create for an alien race! We’re creating for our mom, for the part time cashier at the swimming pool where your son got his A-certificate, for the soldier defending our right to complain, for the millions of people we like and the millions of people we don’t understand.

We create for people of the future, that don’t even exist yet.

Make with empathy and curiosity

We make for people that share many many traits with us: we want to be happy, we tend to stick together, we find fun stuff fun, and procrastinate everything we think is dumb, we put effort if it pays off and we like to share in real life, not via vapid button-pressing, we are addicted and distracted easily, we are persistent and annoying if we need to be and we are invested and blissfully happy with the smallest and most important things.

Let’s make, create and design with empathy, curiosity and without prejudice. Let’s discover through a dialogue with people as individuals, but also communities, neighbours, friends, families and couples. Let’s create new, valuable things that are based on intrinsic needs.

Let’s use the right words and change our behaviour towards the people we do business with on a daily basis. Infuse them with honest, empowering language and point to the boundless untapped opportunity we left in the wayside because we talked about behaviour of empty vessels called ‘users’, ‘consumers’ and ‘citizens’, rather than the lives of actual people like and -most likely- unlike you and me.