11 June 2006

Don Norman on the need to call people people, not customers, not consumers, not users

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Usability test
“Words matter. Psychologists depersonalise the people they study by calling them ‘subjects’. We depersonalize the people we study by calling them “users.” Both terms are derogatory. They take us away from our primary mission: to help people. Power to the people, I say, to repurpose an old phrase. People. Human Beings. That’s what our discipline is really about.”

“If we are designing for people, why not call them that: people, a person, or perhaps humans. But no, we distance ourselves from the people for whom we design by giving them descriptive and somewhat degrading names, such as customer, consumer, or user. Customer – you know, someone who pays the bills. Consumer – one who consumes. User, or even worse, end user – the person who pushes the buttons, clicks the mouse, and keeps getting confused.” […]

“People are rich, complex beings. They use our devices with specific goals, motives, and agendas. Often they work with – or against – others. A label such as customer, consumer or user ignores this rich structure of abilities, motives, and social structures.”

“Time to admit that we are people, that we design for people. Yes, I know, the various terms arose from the need to distinguish the many different roles people play in the world of artifacts, machines, and gizmos: those who specify, those who distribute, those who purchase (customers), those who actually use them (users). Those who stand by and watch. But that is still no excuse. All of them are people. All deserve their share of dignity. Their roles can be specified in other ways. It is time to wipe words such as consumer, customer, and user from our vocabulary. Time to speak of people. Power to the people.”

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