Designing for People, not Users

“…it is easy to demoralize a first-timer, but we must keep in mind that the state of beginner-hood is never an objective.”


When Julie Zhou published The Death of “Users” and “Product Design” she virally launched Mark Zuckerberg’s “people, not users” philosophy across the internet. Ever since then, I have been focusing more on the people I design for. I try to be quick and catch myself when I slip up and accidentally refer to someone as a user. I try to spread the change in language as unobtrusively as I can, hopefully working the philosophy into the products I help build and root it in the culture as honestly and organically possible.

Still there are times throughout my day when I slip up. I’ve been thinking about those slip ups and how they do little to promote the more empathetic and compassionate culture we as designers try to build.

I was reminded of Julie’s article and Mark’s philosophy the other day while reading About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design, for a couple of reasons:

  1. The use of the term “users” in this book is unbelievable. I almost want to count to see just how many times they mention the word.
  2. However, it still articulates the immense consideration for empathy and compassion that is required to design for people.

Also, this book is incredible and I suggest every designer read it.

Beginners are undeniably sensitive, and it is easy to demoralize a first-timer, but we must keep in mind that the state of beginner-hood is never an objective. Nobody wants to remain a beginner. It is merely a rite of passage everyone must experience. Good software shortens that passage without bringing attention to it.
As an interaction designer, it’s best to imagine that users — especially beginners — are simultaneously very intelligent and very busy. They need some instruction, but not very much, and the process has to be rapid and targeted… Just because a user needs to learn how to operate a product doesn’t mean that they need or want to learn how it works inside.
Cooper, A., Reimann, R., & Cronin, D. (2007). Beginners, Experts, and Intermediates. In About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design (3rd ed., p. 44, 45). Indianapolis, Indiana: Wiley Publishing.

Design principle: Imagine users as very intelligent but very busy.

People aren’t unintelligent, they are just busy. Keeping this in mind allows us to more easily empathize and have compassion for the people we design for. Join the “people, not users” movement and help create positive change within our industry. All it takes is a little vocabulary change to make a big impact.

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About the Author

I am a Designer at MindSea Development Inc., where I work with a diverse multidisciplinary team designing mobile solutions that grow business and delight people.

Visit my website: nnwoodman.me
Find me on Twitter:
@nnwoodman
Browse my collection: Think Design UX: A collection for new and student designers

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