Friday, August 28, 2009

Truth in labeling

I can’t remember where, but I once heard someone say that there were only two professions that called their customers “users.” It was not a compliment.

I am always sensitive about describing users in the abstract, as if they were one big class. Your website has visitors, some of them may be customers or clients, some may even be friends. Your application or tool is used (hopefully) by managers, or accounts, or marketers. A form or survey is filled in by your guests or employees. You get the idea.

For almost any given tool, process, communication, etc., the mass of different users have different experiences and expectations, so why lump them together using one ill-fitting term?

Having been on the application-design side, I know it’s tempting to describe people by the role they play in a flow chart or white board (the user does X, then Y happens) – I’ve done it myself – but that doesn’t mean it’s a good practice. The more abstract those people (users) become to the people designing tools (designers), the less likely it is that those tools will meet the expectations or needs of the intended audience.

I know, it’s only a word. But like so many words, the language we choose can:
  • help clarify our thinking and help us make better decisions; or
  • get in the way of exchanging ideas and confuse our decision-making.
And today, a lot more people design tools. If you’ve made a Powerpoint file that someone else is supposed to use, you’re a developer.

No comments:

Post a Comment