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Thursday, Jul. 26, 2007 at 10:03 am

Amen Brother!!! Down With “Users”

By Jeffrey Eisenberg
July 26th, 2007

We’re sick of the term ‘users,’ and we’ve been unhappy with it publicly for many years. So congratulations to Josh Bernoff for puting his foot down and saying enough is enough. Users is a terrible term . It puts everyone in the wrong state of mind. Users don’t come to your website – people do. Give people a great experience in a scenario that reflects their buying process, and they won’t just become your users; they will become your customers.

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Comments (4)

  1. I don’t know. Seems pretty lame to me. Yes people come to your website. And then what do they do? They USE it. What does that make them? Users, of course. Seems to me that you are making a mountain out of a molehill.

    The mere use of the term “users” — it seems to me — has little (perhaps zero?) effect on the way one views their role in providing a fantastic “user experience.” I really think you are barking up the wrong tree here. Better to concentrate on things that really matter. (I’m sure very few will agree with me on this, but hey, that’s ok.)

    By the way, I have read your books and I have found them to be very useful! They have helped me to make substantial improvements, and have altered my thought processes considerably.

  2. Of course, I agree whole-heartedly with the inappropriateness of the term “user”. The term goes back to software design – and through that back to scientists standing over employees with stop watches at the beginning of the industrial revolution.

    And Ken, I disagree, people “use” software, but unless they are using an online service (really online software) they are not “using” the site at all. They are shopping or researching – but the focus of your average Web site is drastically different than that of a word processor (where “users” really makes sense). Granted they might be said to be “using” the site for that purpose, but I think it misses a key point.

    It may seem like a small point, but that one word tends to shape a whole philosophy of design. A “user-centered” site would aim to allow a user to complete a task as efficiently as possible. A good Web site, on the other side, will motivate the user to complete the task. You may see this as a small detail, but it leads to a drastically different measure of success.

    And “user experience” is just as problematic. I might have a great “user experience” on an amusement park ride, but it is not a goal-oriented experience. And ultimately for most of us, our clients aren’t as happy if their site visitors went “wow” as they are if they spent a lot of money with our clients because of it.

    Mind you, since the terms “user” and “user experience” are SO established in the industry I still find the word “user” slipping out of my mouth accidentally all the time. And clients generally use these terms in conversation – it’s what they have been taught to ask about.

    The advantage of that tension is that it generally gives a perfect opportunity to talk about the difference between passive and influential design.

  3. It’s simple, really.

    People don’t “use” an eCommerce site any more than they “use” their local WalMart store.

    They may USE shopping carts and self-service checkout lines (specific TOOLS designed to facilitate specific functions in the shopping sequence), but…

    they don’t USE signage (they “follow” it),
    they don’t USE labels and copy (they “read” them), and
    they don’t USE products (they “compare,” “evaluate” and “buy” them).

    Not only is the “user” paradigm dehumanizing, it is also inaccurate and downright unhelpful in understanding the different stages and functions involved in the shopping/buying experience.


  4. [...] the average time, the fact is people are impatient online and you will not change that. As a matter of fact, the situation will probably get worse as [...]

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Jeffrey Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark. You can friend him on Facebook.

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