A broader definition of ‘user’

Ashim D’Silva

This buzzword has been doing the rounds quite a lot recently: user-centred design.

It’s seems like a term created solely to allow some quote-padding, because if you’re not building for your user, who are you building for at all? I have the same problem with ‘design thinking’, after all, all thinking primarily involves design. If not, it is simply recollection. But this post isn’t merely a rant on the semantics of our industry.

What is a user then…

When we build websites, this seems to simply be the people who finally use the site. We choose the percentage of them we’d like to target clearly, and we tailor the site to benefit them as much as possible. This is important. And many people have written many articles on the subject. I’d like to broaden this definition, and take it a step outside just the final product.

A user is the next person who will use what you’ve made

I’ve started using a great service to turn my designs into HTML before we connect a CMS to it and touch up any CSS work. To me as a creator of a PSD then, they are my users – they need to be able to understand my intent for design and turn that into a functioning site. That file then needs to be understandable enough for a programmer to insert back-end hooks and flexible enough to accept content it was designed for. And that final code then needs to be usable enough by me, to edit and poke and prod and get everything working just right. Each of these stages, has a user. And that user is integral to the project. I’ve been on all three sides of this circle and more often than not problems arise simply from something getting lost in translation – it wasn’t designed for its next step, its next user.

Even further out

If I’ve made sense thus far, then we can extend this beyond the actual project as well. Your first email to a potential client should be usable: they should know why it’s there, and what their ideal next step is. The quote, and subsequently the contract can both be usable and allow simple understandings between all parties. Your office can be usable: do people know where to wait, whom to speak to when they walk in, are they given enough reason to anticipate the next step? Everything we put into ‘user-centred design’ can be applied to everything else as well if you broaden your definition of a user.

It could make the world far more pleasurable to interact with.

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