"There are only two industries that describe their customers as users: illegal drugs and software companies" - Edward Tufte, American statistician, professor emeritus at Yale University and pioneer of data visualization.
For the sake of simplicity, the word user is stamped onto customers that, well, use a product. We see it everywhere. Please enter your username. Read the User End Agreement. This product is user friendly. So what’s the big deal? Here are 3 reasons you should avoid the term user.
1. Everyone's a user. When the word first popped into our vocabulary to represent those who used a certain technology, it was a fairly new idea. It was a certain niche target market. Today, 30% of the world's population is on the internet and over 80% of Americans are on at least one social media platform.
2. It sounds negative. If someone asked you if you were a user, what immediately comes to mind? Probably not technology or consumerism. The meaning of words change over time. For example, the word awful. Today it describes something that is extremely unpleasant. It used to mean “full of awe” and was used to describe something that was amazing or delightful.
3. It’s not just semantics. In content marketing, it represents a state of mind. Content is created around engaging audiences made up of people, not users. Think of your audience on a personal level, not as a tiny grain of sand in an endless sea of the people who use your product.
One of the creators of User Centered Design, Don Norman, has even expressed his displeasure with the word user. Watch this snippet of an interview with him below:
What do you think of the term “user”? Do you think it correctly applies to your customer base, and would you want to be called a user?