As advertisers and marketers we are constantly referencing our targets by their target group distinction. So why is the interaction design community sticking to the generic word “user” – and getting away with it? Is it a perceived lack of alternatives?
Being Peter Kim wrote an excellent post referencing dealers and users in order to explain why he finds the term “user” being very appropriate. I’m not sure I completely agree with him, and here is why:
If I reference Robert Hoekmann on this:
“The application itself is not a goal at all, it’s an obstacle between the user and their goal”
So we are not creating applications just because people want to spend time on applications, we are designing them in order to fulfill a goal, to support an activity.
If people where to use solutions just for the sake of using solutions I would agree with the term “user”, but they don’t, and we have to stop talking about them as if they do. “Users” strip our discussion concerning target groups of content and context by removing an understanding of the target group’s values, by giving them a generic meaningless name.
We have to start talking about “users” as what they are, by implementing their ROLE and motivations into our discussions, every discussion. And by that having a conscious and subconscious understanding of the motivation, needs and desires of the end-users when defining and designing the application itself.
I’m sure it’s absolutely possible to build a community site for dog lovers by constantly referencing them as “users”, but I find the conversation enriched by a long stretch by calling them by their roles: veterinarian, teenager, dog trainer, dog lover, dog etc.
The biggest problem concerning discussions around “users” is that they are void of context and activity and there seems to be a rush of brilliant ideas to what these “users” might find useful. Conversations about “users” identify a range of random tools, conversations with “roles” identify context an use, and based on this we find relevant and useful tools tailored to what we know their use will be.
Now, many discussions on blogs are very general, and by that it is often impossible to identify a group or a role, but still I find that the term “user” in this instance does a poor job in reference to the brand.
Where a “user” not only uses a brands application but should be titled with participating on it. And since users are the ones reflecting, defining and spreading a brand, “participant” is even more relevant.
Or if on feels like being a bit crazy: MEmans, a self-constructed word for self-centered Humans :o)