Do you want to be called a user?

The “user” as seen by some.

More often than not you’ll hear the word user pop up in a software related discussion. User is the software industry’s term for people that use the product. As widespread and adopted as it may be, I still can’t get myself to use the term comfortably.

Isn’t user what you commonly call people with drug addictions? Makes me cringe every time I hear the word being used to describe a person in relation to a product. Somehow user sounds far from being right. Begging the question, is this the most appropriate term for the purpose?

There must be a better alternative, a more fitting word to call the people that are engaged with your product.

How do you feel about being called a user? Yes you. If you’re reading this chances are someone already called us both users. Sounds a lot like a shallow view of humanity. Depicting customers as machines. Reducing people to the singular activity of interacting with the product.

It’s kind of arrogant to think that the only reason that people exist is to use what a product that someone created. The reality is that you, the customer live outside the product experience and the product experience has to fit into your lifestyle.

Fail to undestand this by starting out with a user mindset instead of a human one and you’ll probably end up with a far inferior experience.

The fist step in creating a human-centered product is to recognize the customers humanity.

We’re being called many things by many institutions. To the govermnet you’re a acitizen, to the company you’re an employee, to your local store you’re a customer, to a business you’re a client, to a school you’re a student and so on. Also you can be categorized based on the activity you are involved in. If you’re behind the wheel you’re a driver. Reading a book, reader. Writing a novel, writer. You get the point.

By merging together multiple possible activities into the single generic term of user you’re loosing the significance of their individual qualities.

If you’re being described as the activity you’re involved in how does the word user describe you? What are you actually using? How are you using it?

Is “user” the right term to call someone?

Let’s see what do people generally use in real life. Tools pop into mind. Maybe a hammer, scissors or a screwdriver. Basically single purpose tools. Quite possibly not what a product is about.

So if it’s not a single action product, why call the people interested in it users?

Let’s think of alternatives. The product could be about reading articles, just like you’re doing now. In this case we could all agree the most fitting term would be to call you a reader. On the other side I’m using the same product but I would be called a writer. A youtube video will have viewers. A podcastwill have listeners. An online shop, buyers and sellers. The list continues.

How can you call all the different people that interact with the product?

Had some time to think about it during the past years. And the most elegant word I could come up with is audience. If you think about it, the product is a theatrical experience unfolding in front of the audience, you. The product is a play where you’re both a spectator and an actor. As an actor in the play of “the product” you’ll have multiple roles including as a member of the audience. You will only play one role at a time, switching roles whenever needed.

That being said I’d suggest calling every member of the audience by their role (reader, writer…) and sticking to the term audience mostly for analytics.

A product is a play. The device is the theatre. And you are the actor and audience.

Respect your audience, respect your actors and the play will come along perfectly. And remember that there’s no play without actors and there is no theatre without an audience.