Empathy is the soul of design
There’s been a lot of attention to Jack Dorsey’s recent realisation that ‘users’ is a terrible term and that Square (but not Twitter it seems) should change the way it describes the people who use its products and services.
Great. I mean it. This is great.
‘Users’ is a terrible term. Designers and developers employ the word ‘users’ when they’re thinking of the idiots they have to pre-empt, work around, and otherwise fix things for. ‘Users’ is a hostile label, spat out by people who don’t shave below their jawline. I’m happy to see it go.
Replacing it with ‘customers’ is a step in the right direction, and I have to applaud Dorsey for taking that step. But it still doesn’t go far enough for designers. See, ‘customer’ is still primarily a commerce-based designation. Think of people as customers (it is better than consumers) and you’re thinking of their wallet first, and everything else a distant second.
I like to think of people as ‘people‘. Individuals with emotions, desires, dreams, needs, tastes, and probably pets. Don’t misunderstand me – I understand the will to shorthand. ‘Customers’ is a lot shorter than ‘people who use our products’, however it’s not as easy to empathise with.
This is important, because I can empathise with a person. Hell, I’m a person. Some of my best friends are people. I can put myself in the mindset of a person and build an experience that resonates for them. A customer, however? Well, nobody I know is a ‘customer’.
I realise that these might seem like distinctions without differences, but I can assure you they’re not. I also realise that using ‘people who ride bikes’ is more clumsy than ‘cyclists‘. But I guarantee you’ll be a better designer if you think of people as people, rather than customers. Or anything else.