My question arises after been struck by a poster on the wall of Facebook's offices which stated 'People, not users'.

User to me is not particularly good word for a human user, it is better as a global term for an entity that makes use, indeed, some user accounts are only ever used by other machines (e.g. I just set an FTP user up for an external site to fire feeds at).

Would referring to users as people in a software design studio have a noticeable positive effect on the quality of product produced

  • 1
    Possible duplicate of Better term for "user", you might find an answer there.
    – Pesikar
    Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 8:43
  • 2
    actually I'm not so sure, my question is a bit more direct than the other one and I'm interested in whether this has an effect on the quality of a product
    – Toni Leigh
    Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 8:50
  • Do you mean referring to them as users or people in the design process or in the GUI when talking to the users?
    – K..
    Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 9:51
  • i was meaning in the design process, or rather in the entire product lifecycle
    – Toni Leigh
    Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 10:13

4 Answers 4


I think you are referring to Don Norman's personal crusade here. According to him it is a bit unnatural and advocates we all starting using the 'term' people.

In terms of emotions and empathy, calling someone a user removes almost any human feelings on a superficial level. While, if we call them people, we have this sort of stronger connection in the back of our mind. We talk about designing for emotions and such, but, as soon as the term user is used, in my mind, it is kind of like flinging it around 'The users will be able to ...'


Applying user-centered design principles will be more effective then just change labels. In short, these are:

  • focus on user needs and tasks
  • evaluate and measure product usage
  • make iterations
  • This makes sense but do you have some actual evidence on the effect (or lack thereof) of a change in label? If does help, even a little, it would certainly be cheaper than an ambitious user research and evaluation program and could also complement a proper UCD approach…
    – Gala
    Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 10:39
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    I think 'People, not users' not just label changes, it is paradigm shifting, which is expressed in the slogan. Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 13:26
  • OK, maybe, but what does it mean for the question, then? Should users be referred to as people? Does it matter?
    – Gala
    Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 16:31
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    @GaëlLaurans, OK, name users as people but treat them as people, too. Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 16:37

People have different modes, such as residents, customers, patients etc.

Applying more context around who will be using whatever that it is being built, does feed into tailoring a better product. I worked on a community related project and found that referring to users as 'Residents', 'locals' or even 'Urbanites' helped to further blur the lines between online and offline, which is important to achieving a good experience that reaches beyond the web and mobile. If residents are using your product throughout different online and offline touch points, then it clearly transcends beyond user behaviour and is better reflected as the mode that people are harmoniously in, in this case resident behaviour.

Another example

Both Nordstrom and Pinterest refer to their users as Customers, working together they have placed branded 'P' tags instore on high heel shoes that have been trending online with the most pins. This is a product which recognises people have different modes and in this particular instance the mode is being a customer.


In my experience, it doesn't matter unless "people" might be something other than "users"... for example, if you have users and administrators, or users and visitors.

The important thing is that for every conceptual entity, there is a single word that you all use exclusively.

The push away from the word user to people might have been a marketing decision, or they were trying to emphasize that they need to work from the idea that human beings are using the system, both of these are viable, but there are other ways to do this if you think it will trip up your process.

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