As a Designer, I Refuse to Call People ‘Users’

In an industry that touches so many lives, accurate terminology is essential

Credit: miakievy/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

As terms, I find the U-words unethical and outdated.

The relationship these words describe is no longer accurate. Long ago, the line between operator and tech was much more clearly drawn. Now? Not so much. Yes, when you open an application on your phone you intend to make use of it, but the past few years have taught us that the application intends to make use of you too. Incidents at Facebook and other high-profile tech companies have made it clear that use is a two-way street.

UX design took off as a term near the beginning of 2009. Screenshot from Google Trends
An excerpt from a General Assembly email about user experience and design. Screenshot: Adam Lefton

Saying “user” strips a person of their circumstances… it eliminates context and reduces people to a single act.

“User” has always had other, much more odious connotations outside our industry. Calling someone a drug user, for example, is different from saying someone has a drug problem. By saying “user,” one implies that a good deal of the responsibility for a drug dependency belongs to the person with the dependency. It suggests this use is an act of autonomy—something they do, something within their control—when in fact we know that drug dependencies aren’t anything like that and can result from complex socioeconomic and mental health circumstances. Saying “user” strips a person of their circumstances, of every influence in their life, of history—it eliminates context and reduces people to a single act.

Lead Content Strategist @ PayPal. Book lover. Baseball junkie.

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