Google has done the world a disservice. In creating a shorthand way of describing the people who visit our websites, Google has managed to remove the human element from digital analysis and design, thus creating a cognitive wall between those of us who create digital experiences and the people who actually interact with those experiences.
While the term user is not necessarily pejorative, it has many associated negative connotations. Its conflation with drug usage creates a serious problem when it comes to humanizing web experiences, for example. When we think of the people who interact with the digital experiences we create as users and not people, we disassociate humanity from design and lose sight of our purpose; to create experiences to help people accomplish a task. Whether it be to purchase a product, watch a movie, research, play a game, or read news all digital experiences should be designed to help people accomplish their tasks.
When we remove humanity from analysis and the creative process, we create inauthentic experiences with distracting functionality that hinders experiences (and often harms your bottom line). Rotating carousels, pop-ups, auto-playing video ads (with sound!), and the myriad of flashing and distracting images that have become a common part of digital experiences are a symptom of the larger problem of forgetting whom we create these experiences for.
CAVEAT: It is unfair to blame Google for this (entirely). They did not invent the term “User”, but in 2015 they amplified the usage of the term by replacing “Unique Visitors” with “Users” in their analytics platform. Since then, the struggle to keep people the focus of digital development has been real.
Thinking of people as users prevent us from fully devoting ourselves to creating digital experiences that will serve the people who will ultimately use them. We need to shift our thinking. We need to consider the people who will use the experiences we create, empathize with their needs, and design interactions that help accomplish their tasks. Doing this will improve your brand’s digital experience, promoting more returning visits, and accomplish your brand and company’s business goals.
It starts with empathy
To start this transformation, begin by replacing in your conversations and reporting the word “User” with a term more appropriate with how your business describes customers. Whether it is customers, consumers, people, or visitors using a term that associates with a person instead of a thing will help foster empathy for the people who interact with your digital experiences.
Starting with empathy has been the catalyst for many brand and company digital transformations. It isn’t a new concept, but many of the troubling trends in digital design and experience development can be attributed to a lack of empathy.
Begin your brand’s digital transformation by taking a look at your reporting, your conversations, and your own idea of who uses your digital properties. Do you visualize an actual person or just a number in analytics? Are you planning your interactions to help an actual person accomplish a task or are you trying to force an experience upon someone? Is the primary underlying goal of your digital experiences to help or further a brand objective?
It’s always been about people
The economics of digital has always been about people. People vote with clicks and purchases on the experiences they prefer. Gerry McGovern describes this as the “Customer-Centric Universe”. In this universe (according to McGovern), power has shifted from organizations to customers, people, and communities. While there is a resistance to this idea, the shift is already under way as brands and businesses recognize that in order to succeed, they must provide digital experiences that meet the needs of the people who use them.
Begin your organizational transformation today by taking the first step of acknowledging your digital users are people.