More Than a User*

During the course of the latest edition of the Minnov8 Gang podcast, of which I participate each week, the topic of “users” came up. It sparked an interesting comment from friend and fellow Minnov8er, Garrick VanBuren. He noted that “users don’t exist.”  Needless to say this lead to a bit of discussion…and a bit of disagreement on a few points. I have since thought about it allot.

Garrick argued that people aren’t “users”, they’re people. He noted, “If you own a car does that make you a user of it?” No, but it does make you a driver, just as tuning in a radio station makes you a listener, owning golf clubs makes you a golfer, or owning skis makes you a skier, etc. At the conclusion of the discussion, I left with the impression that it was an argument of semantics.

Since then, I’ve decided that it really is more than that, and perhaps this is what Garrick was driving at. When it comes to any function performed by us as individuals should never be thought of as exclusive to that individual. Okay, maybe that sounds incredibly obvious. But, is it? Take the car analogy. How many cars would you sell if you designed it just to “drive”. No comfy seats, no cup holders, no CD player, no gas mileage…this sucker just drives. Car makers have moved well beyond the “user” mentality. How much more is the customer service experience improved when a company thinks of the customer beyond a “user”?

As we look at the goods or services that we provide, in business anyway, we can’t always afford to address the many aspects of our “users” lives. (Man, don’t you wish we had a bottomless pit of money.) No matter what our budgets we must at least be aware of the other aspects, especially the ones that impact their relationship to what we are offering them.

Are people users, drivers, golfers, listeners? Yes, but how does the driver in them impact the listener or the user impact the golfer. After all, this is what “usability” studies are all about. Sure, cater to the particular user part of your customer or audience but don’t forget the rest of the parts that make up their life.

*Sung to the tune of More Than a Woman by the Bee Gees.