Who are you designing for?

As the name “User Experience” professional implies, many of us would say we design for “users”, “potential users”, or “user groups”. However there are currently many trends in place trying to get us to permanently move away from this term of reference and for good reason.

What is a user anyway? If someone walked up to you on the street and said “I’m a user” you probably wouldn’t be thinking of computer user. In fact the second definition of user according to dictionary.com is “one who uses drugs, esp. as an abuser or addict.” 

So who is it we are really designing for?

If you ask Don Norman, he will tell you that we design for people . While working for profit, John Rhodes would remind us we are designing for customers.  Still others would insist it is a target audience, clients, friends, or consumers. They would all be right. 

Saying you design for users ignores many other important aspects about the people who use our products.

In essence it is other people who are “using” our applications, they are users of our designs, but they are not simply users.  Saying you design for users ignores many other important aspects about the people who use our products. We have become numb to this impersonal research term, and to often forget to remember that they are just that, people. People who have a million things on their to-do list. People who make mistakes. People you like and would provide individual attention and consideration too, like a best friend. How would you design differently if you were designing something for people you know, instead of the ambiguous “users”.

What about customers. Customers are people who pay to use an application or product. Would you design something differently if you keep in mind that you need these people to provide your paycheck? While you work to make things useable you may also work to make things more enticing. It does no good to make something easy to use if no one cares to use it. Designing for customers adds a level of persuasion to usability, helping to inform the customer of their options and make a sale easy if they choose to purchase your service. 

It’s important to identify who it is you are designing for. Grouping everyone who uses your application into a label of “users” makes it to easy to forget that it is the people who use your application that you are designing for.