There's a discussion at my office around changing the term "users" to "people" in our online documentation. Some things to know, our online documentation is used primarily by developers, directors (when they want to decide if they should get our product) and product owners, we do not write user guidelines there.

The arguments for people vs users are:

  • "People" generates sympathy for the user
  • "User" can be a somewhat negative term when it's about someone who uses drugs
  • In the Apple documentation, they use "people" instead of "users"

Some arguments against are:

  • Out of a small research of 8 well known online documentation sites, only Apple uses "people". Everyone else uses "users"
  • "People" might hint at more people than just our direct users
  • "User" is a frequently used word and considering the context in which it is used, is universally recognisable as a person that uses your product. (Changing it might even cause confusion amongst our stakeholders)

I would be really interested in hearing your thoughts on this. What vocabulary do you use to refer to the people using your product? Perhaps even an entirely different one?

I also found an interesting source on this here: https://www.parkersoftware.com/blog/ux-terminology-time-dropped-term-users/

  • 1
    Please provide some example statements from your online documentation, where you're considering changing "users" to "people". Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 9:01
  • You wrote: '"People" might hint at more people than just our direct users'. — Have you considered other context appropriate options: customer, client, developer, editor, designer, visitor, guest...? Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 9:06

4 Answers 4


Firstly, define who exactly the guideline is for. Is it for Developers? Designers? Clients? Use that word in the name of the document. Eg. XYZ Developer Documentation, ABC Design Guidelines. Most brands have a first person brand voice. So once you've labeled the document, you can just use the word "you" within the document.

If the documentation is for a B2B app, which requires you to talk about the end user of your client, you can define the term in a more active way depending on who exactly it is intended for. Eg."Customer","Buyer","Gamer","Consultant" "Auditor", "Advocate", "Renter", "Home Owner" etc.

Any Online Documentation/Guideline (especially the super long and detailed ones) requires specific definitions. Generally there is a separate section for this at the beginning of the document. Using the word "People" in this context is too generic and does not fulfill the purpose.

  • Thanks for the answer, like I wrote in my introduction, the target audience for us are primarily developers. Where relevant, I think it's a good idea to adjust the term to match exactly who it is for and I completely agree that "people" is too generic.
    – Irma
    Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 9:21

Had a similar discussion in our team as we moved out of our specific niche and were looking for more generic terms. Some views

user, usergroup, etc is more of a software user perspective used. For regular folks wont make sense

customer, customer base sounds more transactional. customers cannot exist unless they have (or yet to) consume your product/service.

I'd suggest
community member, community as it gives a sense of belongingness. though "community member" is a bit too long. 'individual' or 'person' might be an alternative.

  • I/we use the term "user" for everyone that visits our platform. From there it gets more specific: users (people) who use our service (free for them) become 'leads'. Companies who pay for our service (b2b) are considered "customers", but the individual people within those companies using our service are "users". That's where the term 'user' becomes useful, because it's very individualistic. A "customer" can be a single person, but also a company of 100+ employees. Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 9:01
  • @JosvanWeesel 'user' is still transactional in some sense, as in only if they use the software/system. If they are not a user of your system, it doesn't make sense to call them a user.
    – Blue Ocean
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 2:23
  • Thanks for the response. In our case we're very much guiding developers in configuring our product and maintaining a good usability. I personally don't think "community member" is suited for us, since our product is used and configured by a wide variety of clients. We ourselves do not so much have a "community" as we're more of an integration in an existing system of a client. I think what @JosvanWeesel said sounds quite similar to our situation, except we only have B2B.
    – Irma
    Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 9:20

I personally think people is a vague term, as it doesn't differentiate between those who use your product and those who don't. User is more specific and referring to people who use your product. Consider how much more sympathy changing the term would generate vs. the potential problems and confusion it could cause.

It sounds like you want your team to better understand and humanize your users. Empathy can be generated for users in a variety of ways such as using tools like personas, journey maps, or describing scenarios which put the reader in the perspective of the user.

Here's an article which describes strategies to empathize with users: https://usabilitygeek.com/how-to-empathize-with-your-users/

Hope this helps!

  • Thanks Jivin, that does help! I think another approach such as the ones you mentioned would be more suited in our situation.
    – Irma
    Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 9:17

I think your question is too general. The term you should use depends on the product and your target audience. It may be that in one document you will use 'users' and in another 'people'. If your document describes the whole customer journey where your clients interact with real word companies and people maybe you would prefer using people. If your document describes interaction with the digital system you may use 'users'. When I worked for a gambling company we used the term 'players', for another system it could be 'doctors', 'patients', etc. Choose what is more suitable for your system and situation and also for the level of abstraction of your document. I use a varaety of terms in my documents when I address different types of users.

  • Thanks for the response. The target audience like I wrote in my description is primarily developers. We advise them on how to configure our product, covering both basic step-by-step guides as well as UX guidance to essentially make sure they do not completely butcher our usability (our product is highly customizable). In the end it's very much a digital system they interact with.
    – Irma
    Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 9:15

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