People, not users

This is a repost of the original from my previous blog at

Inspired by Simon Sineks chat with Seth Godin, I started reflecting on how we talk about the people using the things we make.

“Users” is a very common concept in the world of software and services. What if the way we talk and think about the people using our products and services impacts how we see them and our empathy towards them – and in turn the quality of what we offer?

Talking about people as users automatically creates a distance and an unempathetic relationship with the entities that are interacting with what we are making. This in turn makes it much easier to blame them for things that goes wrong. “It's a user error” is much easier to say than, “this person is using my product incorrectly”. The former is creating a much greater distance between us, our product and the person using it. The latter makes it harder to put the blame on the other part because we are talking about an actual person.

We should start talking about the people using the things we make, instead of calling them users. We should consider them humans, rather than an ID and collection of metadata in our database.

There is no user error, there is a human using the thing you have made to the best of their knowledge. If they experience something not working, it's a product error, it's a usability error – not a human error.

We talk about human errors in lots of cases. A driver accidentally hits the accelerator instead of the brakes and crashes their car. We call this a human error. I want to challenge this misconception. This is ultimately a product error, or a usability error. We should have made the product so that it was not possible to get into the faulty situation in the first place.

This is obviously a lofty goal: To eradicate any opportunity for humans to make mistakes when using any product or service. However, stretching for it – to make everything for the human and not the user – don't you think it could help us improve the things we make? And, with greater empathy as an added bonus?

For your next product carry out an experiment: Instead of creating a User-database, create a Human-database, with a humanId, a humanname – not a userId or a username.

And remember, we are also the human. Countless times every day.