A note on users and the people who interact with your website

One of the many things that’s made Disney so successful is how they’ve effectively removed any mental association of money with the purchases their customers make. You don’t pay with cash, and now you don’t even pay with credit cards. Rather, you get a super fun Mickey band for your wrist that you can tap on anything and it’s yours! It’s a powerful technique, and it works.

I often think of this dissociation technique when I hear people discuss other human beings who use the products they’re trying to sell. In my case, I am referring to websites and “users.” People are not people in the Web world. They are faceless, nameless users that you don’t associate with real human beings. This is a problem!

It’s not a purposeful technique employed in the same way Disney employs it to make more money, but the effect is there nonetheless. Words and associations matter, whether you’re using them to purposefully drive profit or carelessly using them and succumbing to unintended mental gaps.

Calling people “users” doesn’t as easily allow you to design for the people who are going to be interacting with your digital landscape, whether it’s your website, ad network or social media. Your “user” is someone who can’t figure out how to navigate your site, and instead of blaming the company they blame themselves for not being smart enough. Thinking of people internalizing ineffective, poor design in this way is heartbreaking.

I prefer to say “people” or “customers,” which has the connotation that these are people who are engaging in a transaction with what you’re creating. People are not simply using your website. They are giving you their time, data and money, and that’s a big deal worth correctly identifying.

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