But labeling people as users strips them of complexity. It reduces humans to a single behavior, effectively supporting a view of people as more like robots whose sole function is to use a product or feature. This is a poor ethos for building ethical technology. If we maintain such a narrow and flattening view as a cornerstone of our discipline.

H1 Why Great Headers are Always Catchy

In product design, “user” and the other U-words have been foundational to defining the relationship between humans and tech. The former uses. The latter is used.

But labeling people as users strips them of complexity. It reduces humans to a single behavior, effectively supporting a view of people as more like robots whose sole function is to use a product or feature. This is a poor ethos for building ethical technology. If we maintain such a narrow and flattening view as a cornerstone of our discipline, I fear we’ll make little progress toward evolving design to meet the pressing needs of a changing world.

H2 As terms, I find the U-words unethical and outdated.

The relationship these words describe is no longer accurate. Long ago, the line between operator and tech was much more clearly drawn. Now? Not so much. Yes, when you open an application on your phone you intend to make use of it, but the past few years have taught us that the application intends to make use of you too. Incidents at Facebook and other high-profile tech companies have made it clear that use is a two-way street.

Simply put, the U-words have their origin in a more sanguine, naïve era. As terms, I find them unethical and outdated, and so I have doubts they can usher in the kind of improvements to technology we desperately need.

The term UX design began its rise to industry-standard ubiquity in 2009. And I believe we should regularly question and examine the terminology we use to make sure new terms have not been diluted or changed meanings. We haven’t been doing this, and as a result, the U-words have come to mean things I now find unrecognizable.

H3 The Rise of the Term “UX Design”

UX design took off as a term near the beginning of 2009. Screenshot from Google Trends

In an email from General Assembly, UX design was defined as a way to “create products and experiences that solve customers’ problems” so that “brands can keep those customers coming back.”

UX means solving a customer’s problem so they keep coming back for more? This is a narrow and dark definition of what good design can do, and it concerns me that it’s being used in an email that recruits prospective students to a training program promising to launch them into successful careers in tech.
An excerpt from a General Assembly email about user experience and design. Screenshot: Adam Lefton

As a blockquote, this needs to be really catchy and attractive. It has to grab you by the collar and say “Hey, look at me you idiot!”SUM YUNG GAI

When I think of my career, the first associations I have with UX and the user are almost inseparable from usability and deeply rooted in the static web. Before the internet of things, caring about the user experience meant caring about the way a person interacted with, and found information on, simple websites.

It’s 2019, and nothing is simple anymore. So many of our interactions occur through screens and devices, and the use of these new technologies at scale has had unforeseen consequences in the social, political, and emotional arenas of our lives.

UX means solving a customer’s problem so they keep coming back for more? This is a narrow and dark definition of what good design can do, and it concerns me that it’s being used in an email that recruits prospective students to a training program promising to launch them into successful careers in tech.
An excerpt from a General Assembly email about user experience and design. Screenshot: Adam Lefton

H4 UX Means Solving Problems Religiously

When I think of my career, the first associations I have with UX and the user are almost inseparable from usability and deeply rooted in the static web. Before the internet of things, caring about the user experience meant caring about the way a person interacted with, and found information on, simple websites.

It’s 2019, and nothing is simple anymore. So many of our interactions occur through screens and devices, and the use of these new technologies at scale has had unforeseen consequences in the social, political, and emotional arenas of our lives.

The fact that people use something doesn’t always make it good. It may have been a productive measure when websites were relatively uncomplicated repositories of information, but in a world where people feel increasingly burdened by their device usage and dependency, and our most widely-used technologies have been turned against us, we can no longer consider something so basic as “use” a sign of success. It’s too low a bar to set.

H5 The Fox Jumps Over the Red Roof Bungalow

In the design world, the user occupies a pedestal. We hold users in high regard. We care about our users. We want good things to happen for them, and so we make it all about them, going as far as to make the user our namesake. We work in user experience design organizations. We call ourselves UX designers. We parcel out development tasks into “user stories.”

So do we care? Can we care if we’re constantly referring to people with language presaging a relationship that by our own account only goes well when they keep coming back again and again, sometimes to their own detriment? A contradiction like this demands that we take a closer look at these words.

H6 Because the Quit Stops Here

In the design world, the user occupies a pedestal. We hold users in high regard. We care about our users. We want good things to happen for them, and so we make it all about them, going as far as to make the user our namesake. We work in user experience design organizations. We call ourselves UX designers. We parcel out development tasks into “user stories.”

So do we care? Can we care if we’re constantly referring to people with language presaging a relationship that by our own account only goes well when they keep coming back again and again, sometimes to their own detriment? A contradiction like this demands that we take a closer look at these words.