Why it’s “human”, and not “user”

I’ve personally had problems with the term “user” (as in user-centered design) for the subtle implication of a non-empathetic, sterilized, objectified view of emotionally, socially complex people, denying what makes us human. Of course, Dick Buchanan goes a few steps further, phrasing it brilliantly here:

What is important at the moment…the major tenet of new design thinking: the central place of human beings in our work. In the language of our field, we call this “human-centered design.”

Unfortunately, we often forget the full force and meaning of the phrase —and the first principle which it expresses. This happens, for example, when we reduce our considerations of human-centered design to matters of sheer usability and when we speak merely of “user-centered design. ” It is true that usability plays an important role in human centered design, but the principles that guide our work are not exhausted when we have finished our ergonomic, psychological, sociological and anthropological studies of what fits the human body and mind.

Human-centered design is fundamentally an affirmation of human dignity. It is an ongoing search for what can be done to support and strengthen the dignity of human beings as they act out their lives in varied social, economic, political, and cultural circumstances.

From Human Dignity and Human Rights: Thoughts on the Principles of Human-Centered Design, published in Design Issues: Volume 17, Number 3 Summer 2001.

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