People 'Users’

by Adam Lefton

This is a great piece on choosing the terms we use carefully…such as People ‘Users’…

I’ve worked in UX for the better part of a decade. From now on, I plan to remove the word “user” and any associated terms—like “UX” and “user experience”—from my vocabulary. It’ll take time. I’ll start by trying to avoid using them in conversations at work. I’ll erase them from my LinkedIn profile. I’ll find new ways to describe my job when making small talk. I will experiment and look for something better.

I don’t have any strong alternatives to offer right now, but I’m confident I’ll find some. I think of it as a challenge. The U-words are everywhere in tech, but they no longer reflect my values or my approach to design and technology. I can either keep using language I disagree with, or I can begin to search for what’s next. I choose to search.


Inproduct design, “user” and the other U-words have been foundational to defining the relationship between humans and tech. The former uses. The latter is used.

But labeling people as users strips them of complexity. It reduces humans to a single behavior, effectively supporting a view of people as more like robots whose sole function is to usea product or feature. This is a poor ethos for building ethical technology. If we maintain such a narrow and flattening view as a cornerstone of our discipline, I fear we’ll make little progress toward evolving design to meet the pressing needs of a changing world.

As terms, I find the U-words unethical and outdated.

The relationship these words describe is no longer accurate. Long ago, the line between operator and tech was much more clearly drawn. Now? Not so much. Yes, when you open an application on your phone you intend to make use of it, but the past few years have taught us that the application intends to make use of you too. Incidents at Facebook and other high-profile tech companies have made it clear that use is a two-way street.

Simply put, the U-words have their origin in a more sanguine, naïve era. As terms, I find them unethical and outdated, and so I have doubts they can usher in the kind of improvements to technology we desperately need.

The term UX design began its rise to industry-standard ubiquity in 2009. And I believe we should regularly question and examine the terminology we use to make sure new terms have not been diluted or changed meanings. We haven’t been doing this, and as a result, the U-words have come to mean things I now find unrecognizable.


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