Why We Don’t Call our Clients “Users”

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It isn’t uncommon for software companies to call their clients “users,” since, well…they “use” their products. But that seems pretty robotic, doesn’t it? I mean, because you’re a person, not a user. You could be a mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, aunt, or even that crazy uncle most people only see at Thanksgiving. You’re human. You have emotions. You get angry. You get frustrated. You can be happy. You can be sad. You like and dislike things. When you walk through a park on a sunny day, you smell the grass, feel the sun gently heating your skin. You’re human. Guess what? We’re humans too! That’s a lot we have in common!

Why Do Software Companies Call You a “User”?

So why do other software companies call you a user? It’s easy. When you’re talking to a software developer, it’s simple to say the ‘user’ does this. They probably don’t know who Kelly, Natalie, Christina, Laura, Jason, Kevin, or Tom are. Because developers aren’t exactly expected to have “people skills,” they rarely talk to their clients. There’s a gap between you and the person building your software. The developers don’t know your name or who you are or how many kids you have. This gap creates a tremendous problem that will significantly set back all hopes of user-friendly software design.

Even the staff charged with relaying your feedback to developers (assuming the company cares about your feedback) will call you ‘user’ instead of your name. At more abstract levels, when designing new functionality from scratch, a developer will use the vague concept of ‘user’ to map out the user interface. Since the developer doesn’t know his clients, doesn’t know their names, what else does he/she have to go by? They use a vague concept. They build software for ‘users’ instead of software for humans. Seems understandable enough, right?

Why Software Developers Should Program For People

What’s the big deal if a developer thinks of a user instead of a person? Many companies don’t see any issue with designing software for users. It gets the job done. The software performs the task required. But here’s the thing; it’s software for a user, not a person. And software made for a user tends to suck. It sucks because a user is not a person.

A user is a vague concept. It’s bland, inhuman, humdrum, robotic, inorganic, and lifeless. A user performs a task. A user has no life, nothing else they’d rather do, nothing else they must do. A user has no other priorities than using the software, completing individual tasks as conceived of in the imagination of a developer.

Think of it this way, a developer writes code for one little piece of the entire system at a time. If they write this code for a user, they will consider only how to accomplish it. Because a user is inanimate, they only care that something can get done. They don’t care how it gets done. And that is a big, big deal. Because a user won’t complain. A user won’t throw a computer out a window when the user has to click a completely useless button 500 times. A user won’t smile when something goes right. A user won’t dole out any social consequences (no frowns, no bad reviews, no crossed arms, no frustrated sighs, no angry remarks) or rewards (no smiles, no hugs, no ‘thank you’s, no excellent reviews, no referrals, and etc.).

So there’s no social pressure on the developer to go the extra mile, to reduce friction, to make sure the task gets completed in the most efficient and pleasant way possible. When a developer builds software for a user, you get software built for a user. Humans rarely like this kind of software.

Humans hate this kind of software precisely because it’s not designed for them. It’s a subtle point with staggering consequences. A person simply is not a user. You are vibrant, have feelings, are guided by them. You get impatient. You smile. You frown. You have a million ways of letting people know whether you’re happy or angry. A good support and development staff will remember these signals and get better at interpreting them over time. And the surest way to guarantee that is to use real names.

A Rose by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet

That’s why ISP uses names when we design our campaign software. Because the moment we do, a world of social pressures in an imaginary landscape emerges where we begin to envision your smile or frown. When we use your name, we have a better sense of what will make you happy or frustrated. We literally imagine you sitting in front of a desk for hours, plugging away at your work. We know you have kids to pick up from school, we know their names. We know you have fundraisers, campaign managers, and candidates who need reports. We know their names. We know the kind of pressure they put on you to hurry or to produce a different report type. We know you’re dreaming of getting out of the office and home to your family. We know you want to finish reports faster to take on more business, so you can buy a house. We know how happy you’ll be when you can.

Software is Built to Help HUMANS

This is the point: the goal of software isn’t to complete a task, it’s to get you what you want overall, to satisfy what you want as a person. In this mental landscape, your personal goals form a crushing pressure on our software and mold it into something more comprehensive than a bunch of discrete functions that complete individual tasks. You get software made for you; a person.

That’s why ISP doesn’t say ‘user.’ We call you by your name. If you ask for something, we say you asked for it. Our developers know who our clients are. They see their feedback. They’ve learned about them. When they hear your name, they are no longer just completing a task. When they hear your name, they know they’re building for you. They know they’re building software for humans.

Call it bedside manner or call it the human touch, at ISP, our coders and programmers have real people in mind when they are working their magic. They put themselves in the shoes of Holly, Josh, Thomas and Katherine….all working on reports and budgets, all with other things on their minds as well. This way, we can better understand your pain points and what you want out of an accounting software. Do you love being treated like a person even if you’re just “using” a program? We thought so!

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