Observations from the "user" debate
by Josh Bernoff
Thanks mostly to the BBC, which highlighted a quote from this blog yesterday (see left), 8000 people stopped by the Groundswell yesterday to read and talk about users.
I learned quite a bit from their responses, which I'll share.
I very much liked this quote from David Ogilvy's Ogilvy on Advertising, sent in by James Cherkoff:
"The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife."
Both my colleague Harley Manning, who leads Forrester's customer experience group, and a reader from the UK, Ken Tindall, pointed out that user interface expert Alan Cooper discusses this issue at length in his book The Inmates Are Running The Asylum. Cooper, and Forrester, recommend designing products with a specific person in mind -- a sort of archetype for the people you will be serving. This archetype is called a persona. Personas are one of the central elements of scenario design, designing Web sites (or anything) so a specific type of person can achieve their goals. When you're designing for "Fred" or "Amanda" instead of for a "user" it's easier to sympathize.
Finally, reading all these comments, many from developers, led me to create (forgive the ego) Bernoff's first law of usability:
The closer you work to technology, the more tempting it is to think of your clients and customers as "users" and not people.
I was led to this by the impassioned pleas to keep the word "user" from technical support people, Web developers, software developers, and writers of technical manuals, many of whom cling to it like a cherished stuffed animal. As my colleague Brian Haven wrote in his new blog:
Designers, technologists, and business practitioners should consider abandoning these terms to force themselves to focus on the needs and actions people take, which should inevitably lead to better products and services.
I am trying not to make offensive generalizations here, since many of you technology workers have reached an enlightened rapport with the people who use your products. But could this episode about users and "lusers" have happened anywhere but at MIT, where everyone is immersed in technology all the time?
This is not just political correctness. Next time your computer, a Web site you're visiting, or a technology product starts behaving in a way that mystifies and frustrates you, ask yourself, is this my fault? Or did this happen because the designer thought of me as a "user" and not a person?