As a designer, I refuse to call people "users"
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In an area that affects so many lives, precise terminology is simply necessary.

I am a UX-designer, and for more than five years I have been organizing user interaction. And from now on, I'm going to throw out the word “user” and its associated terms: “UX”, “user experience”, etc., from my lexicon. This will not happen immediately. First, I will try not to use these words in conversations at work. I will remove them from my LinkedIn profile . During social chatter, I will learn to describe my work in other words. I will experiment and search for other, more accurate terms.

So far I have no good alternatives, but I am sure they will be found. I see this as an interesting task. The terms single-root with the word “user” are everywhere in the technology industry today, but they no longer reflect my values ​​and my approach to design and technology in general. So I have to either use the definitions that contradict my vision, or begin the search for new means of expression. And I choose the latter.

In the design of products, “user” and derived words defined the basis of the relationship between people and technology: the former use, the latter use.

But reducing the person to the user, we deprive him of complexity, leave the only kind of behavior and actually support the idea of ​​people as robots whose only purpose is to use a product or function. Which, of course, does not contribute to the development of ethical technologies. If the cornerstone of our industry remains such a narrow, flat look, then, I am afraid, we will not achieve great success in the development of design that will satisfy the immediate needs of a changing world.

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Terms, rooted in the "use" and "users", I consider unethical, obsolete

The relationships described by these words no longer reflect reality. Once upon a time, the line between the operator and the car was much clearer - today it is blurred. Yes, when you open an application on your phone, you intend to use it, but in recent years we have learned to understand that the application uses us. Unpleasant events affecting Facebook and other high-tech companies made it clear that such use is mutual.

Simply put, “enjoyment” is the brainchild of a more optimistic and naive era. I consider the relevant terms obsolete and unethical, so I doubt that they will help improve the technology in the direction that we need.

The term “user interaction organization” (English “UX design”) began its triumphal march in 2009. I think we need to regularly check the relevance and accuracy of the terminology used - only this will help to prevent excessive vagueness of terms and a change in the meaning of the definition. We did not attach any importance to this, and as a result, many terms of “use” have come to mean it is not clear what.

The term “UX design” has begun to rise in trends since 2009. Google Trends screenshot

In a letter from the General Assembly, which deals with learning current professions, the term “organizing user interaction” was defined as a way to “create products and interactions that solve customers' tasks” so that “brands can keep these customers”.

It turns out, user interaction - is this a solution to the client's problem, in which he will return “for adding”? This is a narrow and rather one-sided definition of the possibilities of good design. It is unpleasant that it is used in a letter designed to advertise students for an educational program that promises a successful career in technology.

Excerpt from the General Assembly letter about user interaction and design. Screenshot - Adam Lefton

When I think about my profession, users and interaction with him, the first thing that comes to mind is usability ... and static web pages. Before the  Internet of Things, working on user interaction meant working on how a visitor interacts with simple websites and searches for information on them.

The year is 2019, and now things are much more complicated. A wide variety of devices have become the vehicles for a multitude of interactions, and the large-scale use of new technologies has led to unforeseen consequences in the social, political, and emotional spheres of our lives.

If we use something, it is not necessarily something good. Perhaps when websites were relatively simple repositories of information, it was a fairly convenient indicator of benefits, but in a world where we feel an increasing burden due to the use of devices and dependence on them, where the most widespread technologies have turned against us, no longer it seems possible to consider something as primitive as “use” as a measure of success — this is too low a bar.

In the design world on a pedestal there is a user: we appreciate users, we care about them. We want them to be good, so everything starts spinning around the “user” - and this term eventually becomes synonymous with the word “person.” We are hired by companies that work on organizing user interaction, we call ourselves UX designers, we break development tasks into “ user stories ”.

Do we really care? If with respect to people we constantly use words that obviously indicate relationships that, by our own admission, go well only when these people have to contact us again and again , sometimes at the expense ofmyself, can this be called care? This is a serious contradiction, and therefore it is necessary to take a closer look at the meaning of these terms.

By saying “user,” we remove the circumstances of life from the equation ... destroy the context and reduce the person to a single action.

Outside the technology industry, the word “user” has always had other, much less pleasant shades. For example, if lawyers call someone a drug user, it’s not at all the same as saying that someone has a drug problem. By saying “user”, we mean that a significant part of the responsibility for the addiction lies with the person who has become its victim. Such a formulation suggests that use is a voluntary act — that is, the action is under the full control of the person — when it is in fact known that drug addiction - it is completely different, it can be the result of complex circumstances, including the socio-economic situation and mental state. By saying “user”, we remove from the equation the circumstances of a person’s life, the factors affecting his actions, his entire past — we destroy the context and reduce the personality to a single action.

Imagine a world in which everyone acts like this — as if it were precisely this solid foundation of technology from which billions of people expect them to help cope with their daily lives and improve the world around them. But it is in this world that we live now.

Before me, it was already quite eloquently written that the design should stop focusing on how the products being developed work with the user in isolated circumstances, and begin to consider how innovations can and  should work at the level of society. We hardly understand today how it looks in practice, and, of course, have not seen the application of this approach on a large scale, but I know one thing: “use” will not lead us anywhere, and the corresponding terms do not inspire at all.

The terminology of “use” reigns supreme in my work, but without it I am still both a designer and a writer. Without them, I still know how to solve problems and think. And I remain a person who wants to create and benefit other people. Anyway, it seems to me that changing the vocabulary will help me as a professional to become better.

Having abandoned the “user” terms, I can begin to work hard on revising my own ideas about design. I’m probably waiting for a difficult discussion. I can start developing frameworks that go beyond “use” and aim at more meaningful indicators of success, such as  productivity, happiness, and well-being. I can start to improve.

And I hope this is on the shoulder of us all.

About the translator

The article is translated in Alconost.

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