Jesse James Garret gave an interesting plenary at the recent IA Summit in which he spoke about how he came to terms with the word “user”. The talk in general proposed that information architects are ultimately working as user experience designers, which is an idea that I completely agree with. In fact, artists went through a similar identity crisis with the popularization of installation art, which is also focused on the overall experience. In the latter case, the artists didn’t want to be seen as sculptors, painters, sound artists or within any other discipline. They wanted to be seen as installation, or conceptual, artists. Installation artists often recite that space is defined as the area between two objects, ideas, or things. This fits with the idea of creating experiences because experiences happen in the space between things, whether those things are architectural elements, sculptural elements or specific interactions.
Getting back to “users”, Jesse mentioned a joke that is often cited in the design world, which two professions refer to their customers as users? Designers and drug dealers. Obviously, this does not reflect well on designers. Jesse, however, did his best to accept the term by pointing out that “consumers” is not appropriate because it implies that all they do is consume (i.e. gobble up products and crap cash a la ClueTrain Manifesto). This is obviously not the case when you consider the tidal wave of consumer generated media online, which I prefer to refer to as “user generated content.” “Customers” doesn’t quite work either because not all “users” are buyers. Finally, one good thing about the term “users” is that it implies use, function, and purpose.
Listen to Jesse’s talk here: