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Thursday

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The Demise Of The Consumer/User

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by Brian Haven
@ 10:31 PM

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My colleague, Josh Bernoff, kicked off a great discussion yesterday about the use of the word "user" to describe people, customer, etc. I've been thinking about this as well for some time, and I completely agree with Josh and many of the people who commented. But there are other problems with the lingo.

Two commonly used terms to describe people expose the problematic perspective of both business and design. First, and most offensive, is the term consumer, commonly used by business practitioners. Second is the user, commonly used by designers and technologists, but business folks have recently jumped on the bandwagon. They both suffer from a perspective problem: they focus on the consumption or use of the product or service--from the creators perspective. A bit self-centered, eh?

A better approach is to focus on the action taken by the individual rather than place the center of attention on that which is being used. People are "doers", not users or consumers (this came from a great conversation I had with and old friend, John Rheinfrank). It may seem like a trivial semantic issue, but it exposes what the creators deem most important--what they created, not the need being fulfilled. 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.

Naturally, there's a tough obstacle. Using a word like "doers" just doesn't roll off the tongue. So, the trick is coming up with a more humanistic replacement. I haven't found anything yet, in fact I'm still guilty of using users and consumers in my research. I've been weaning myself off those words and hope to be rid of them both in the near future, but writing to business people means taking baby steps most of the time.

 

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