In the technology world, despite the discipline of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) design, which has been around a few decades, the term “user” is bandied about as the default term for people who use software and hardware. HCI spawned what is today known as UI (User Interface) and UX (User Experience) which are the professionals who determine the look and feel of software products and hardware and the experience that “users” will have with these creations.

We take a bit of an exception to the term “user” and here’s why. We’re not the first and likely not the last and it may be an entirely losing battle since industry has adopted this term. Internally, we always use the terms HI and HX, substituting user for human.

The problem is the word “user” as it is dissociative from a human. If a human is going to use an app or piece of hardware, it needs to understand one critical aspect the “user” doesn’t account for…humans are quirky. Humans always do things we don’t expect. Good UX/UI designers understand this very well, which is why they like to talk to humans first, which drives coders bonkers. Coders just want to get the job done, the sprint finished.

The problem with the word “user” is that it doesn’t consider the human. It considers an abstract theory of something that will work within the strictures of the system and that every something that uses that system will behave in predictable ways. For example, Alexander Bell designed the telephone to share opera music with the world. How did that turn out? Twitter was designed to be a system that enabled ambulance crews to communicate with the ER en route to hospital…instead it is used by an American president to discuss his toilet habits.

The top notch UX and UI designers understand this well and they account for quirky humans as they develop systems. Whether or not the company decides to pay attention to that is another matter altogether. We’ve seen superb UX designs shot down by startup entrepreneurs who want to ship and break things…who end up breaking it so badly no humans want to use it or enterprises that would prefer the humans behave like robots and deny the vagaries of the human mind and wonder why they’re off budget and have to kill the project.

We’d argue that UX and UI should become HX and HI, but we know that’s unlikely to happen. Humans are weird that way, but hey, that’s what we get.

When you sit back and talk to humans, have interviews and watch what humans do with a competitive or similar product and you look at what really happens operationally in an organisation, you discover some really cool things and that leads to products designed for humans, not users.

More Insights: You might also like this article on using design thinking in the digital transformation process.

About the Author Giles W. Crouch

Giles Crouch is a digital anthropologist and CDO/CIO. He spent over 20 years in globally-focussed marketing communications for technology products and services, but his roots are anthropology in a modern sense. He uniquely ties his deep knowledge of technology, marketing, design thinking and design anthropology as a polymath to help clients seeking digital advantage in today’s complex world. Giles has been regularly interviewed by international news media on topics such as social media, blockchain, artificial intelligence and it’s impacts on society. He is a passionate practitioner of design thinking and anthropology. Giles is prolific writer and public speaker, lecturer and keynote. He has also completed over 250 netnographic research projects since 2009. His secondary activity is as Group Publisher with Human Media Inc.

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