Rethinking the Term “Users”

Josh Bernoff and Charlene LiJosh Bernoff wrote an intriguing post (titled “I’m sick of users”) about why we should avoid the term “users.” Josh says,

Nobody talks about users of dishwashers, or users of retail stores, or users of telephones. So why are we talking about “users” of computers, browsers, and software?

Try, just for a day, to stop using this word. You’ll be amazed at how differently you think about the world.

Web users become people looking for information.

Application users become employees trying to get stuff done.

Users of your Web site become customers.

I tend to agree. After reading the post, I was talking to someone who mentioned their “users,” and I had to laugh a little. When I hear the term, I now think of a drug user or some other addictive person.

follow us in feedly

Adobe RobohelpMadcap Flare

This entry was posted in general on by .

By Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer working for a gamification company called Badgeville in the Silicon Valley area in California. I'm primarily interested in topics related to technical writing, such as visual communication (video tutorials, illustrations), findability (organization, information architecture), content development (DITA, testing), API documentation (code examples, programming), web publishing (web platforms, Web design) -- pretty much everything related to technical writing. If you're trying to keep up to date about the field of technical communication, subscribe to my blog either by RSS or by email. To learn more about me, see my About page. You can also contact me if you have questions.

4 thoughts on “Rethinking the Term “Users”

  1. Janet Swisher

    I’ve been thinking along similar lines lately, and I totally agree. Nobody uses software because they want to use software. They use software because they want to do something that goes beyond software. Even game-players use software because they want to be engaged and entertained.

    “Users” describes people in terms of their relationship to the product. If we avoid that term, we have to talk about people in terms of their roles or goals that they are using the software for. In order to do that, we have to understand who these people are. So, in a way, calling people “users” reveals our failure or laziness in audience analysis.

    I’m taking this post as inspiration to avoid “user” as much as possible from here out. If all else fails, there is “person”, which at least humanizes the discussion a bit more than “user”.

  2. Janet

    I had a client whose style guide specifically discouraged the use of “user” for the reasons cited in the initial post. When readers of tech documents are IT people, though, you have to admit that “user” is useful.

  3. Pingback: Tech Writer: “Someone who writes as opposed to someone who rides something” | I'd Rather Be Writing

  4. Pingback: lernundenter » Netgeneration - 4 User-Typen

Comments are closed.