The most difficult group entity we design for, engage with and market to is commonly referred to as “users”. Some of you know members of this group as people. A few use the term without thinking it through.
The term “users” has an official formal name in some industries, which to be honest, only serves to complicate matters. I think the term “user” is often quietly defined as “they who are out there”. Like we’re all colorful globs of Jello.
Do we like being called users? This question is asked often and yes, opinions vary. What fascinates me isn’t our feelings about the word “user” (even though to me it feels negative), but what we mean when we use the term.
Is it a blanket term representing many types of people? Are users’ people at all? Could it mean computer hardware or animals? As one Twitter person reminded me, in the movie Tron, “users were gods”. I’m cool with that.
First, The Labels
In the social networking and social media marketing realm, users are a society of people who use computers to interact with other humans. Those of you in the social marketing world have a huge job because you need to identify groups of society and figure out where they like to be with other people like themselves.
You’re conversation oriented. You’re driven to engage with people in smartly calculated ways that do no harm. The best social networkers are open minded and not willing to shut off any type of social group.
The bread and butter for ecommerce websites are customers rather than users.
There are customer personality types that are similar to each astrological sign.
Your Gemini customers scan quickly and impulse buy. Libra buyers will research and weigh the pros and cons of a purchase. Your vibrant Leo will purchase the most expensive items and tell everyone they did. And Virgo’s will send you emails about your improper grammar and raise heck when you’re sold out of an item.
The best you can do, as ecommerce site owners, is to be considerate and keep making enhancements to your site to increase customer satisfaction.
Contrary to what some search engine marketers may think, their target user is not Google or Bing. SEO’s get to explore and market to “people who search for websites”.
For you dear search marketer, understanding why, how, where, when and what people search for makes you a marketing star. Your promotion performance improves the more you understand who is searching online.
Cloaking for engines, writing articles for article databases and linking to every web site under the sun has nothing to do with human behavior.
User experience designers of websites or Internet software applications are user fanatics. As one software developer on Twitter told me, “I must use that term (user) 50 times a day.”
For designers focused on how an application or website will be used, there can be no pointless dart throwing to see what sticks. These folks rely on user personas and mental models to pick apart how we think, how we respond online, our habits and what frustrates us.
Usability and Human Factors bring “captology” (emotions) to the card table and marketing too. This is why you’ll see terms such as “emotional design”, “persuasive design” and “conversions design”. People oriented designs include special needs people, with disabilities ranging from attention and eyesight problems to blind, deaf, or immobilized and physically limited.
Device design has perhaps the most complicated tasks regarding their users. People access software and websites via the smallest of devices up to giant TV sets. Each country has its own Internet infrastructure and access to the Web. Chronic searchers and info-junkies rely on their cell phones to find the latest weather, lowest gas prices, movie times, closest place to eat and Wi-Fi spot so they can play “Angry Birds”.
When you figure out how people use technology and why, you’ll know better how to market and design for them.
Being Considerate Of Users
When Facebook began to rollout new user interfaces, many of you (and I) were puzzled and unhappy. People, for the most part, dislike change. Or, if something changes, it has to be obviously for the better. Facebook gave us new things and took away popular stuff, little by little. They used the “Change it to see what they really wanted” rule. Facebook survived this mess, but could you?
It’s difficult to believe, but in today’s competitive environment, there remain countless software application development and support companies who ignore business, functional, marketing and user requirements. They don’t research in advance. Actual testing is done “live” with paying customers and when something breaks, their poor trainers are left holding the bag.
Companies that do user research before they design and build software or web based applications stand to save millions in employee salaries, lost sales and reputation management rehab efforts.
Analytics and server logs help uncover mysterious behavior and traditional usage too. Use your data to learn demographics, task completion (or not), page abandonment and new search terms.
Programmers, marketers and site designers mistakenly believe they know exactly how clients use their products. Excluding someone may be a serious risk. Typically, the most pushback I get is design for special needs customers. Stakeholders rush to say they don’t care to design for these people because “they don’t use our site”.
Firstly, millions of people have eyesight issues ranging from being color blind to needing special eyewear to read with to being sensitive to contrasts. Millions. Some of them are diabetic with slowly developing blindness that can’t be corrected. Special needs users can be anyone with attention problems, so reading online with video or animation near content are unpleasant.
As more and more companies hire disabled persons, offices set them up with computers designed for them. Any one of these people can be a purchasing agent for a manufacturing firm. What logical sense is it to make it impossible for them to order parts from your website?
A long time friend refuses to acknowledge Microsoft products. A programmer from way back, he sticks to Netscape as his browser. Old habits die hard for some. Someone else I know has no tolerance for Apple products and as a developer has a blind spot to them. It’s easy to forget that people still use dial-up.
Sure, these examples are the minority. But if they’re in management, own a business or have the keys to the credit card, it’s not smart to ignore them.
A research paper called “From the Shadows: Users as Designers, Producers, Marketers, Distributors, and Technical Support”, by Christina Lindsay, offers up interesting lessons on user behavior and changing technology. Her original goal was to study the history of RadioShack’s TRS-80 that came out in 1977. IBM cloned it into a PC in 1984, so RadioShack stopped their upgrades. Lindsay was interested in the rise and fall of this product.
Except there was no fall. She wrote,
“The twist in this tale came when I found that some people are still using this supposedly obsolete technology. Contrary to its perceived disappearance from mainstream personal computing, the TRS-80 has moved beyond obsolescence, emerging alive and well with a new lease on life.”
She found that all these years later, the TRS-80 is in use and fully functional by some users, “who are not only further developing the technology, but are also defining their identities and constructing new ideas of what it means to be a user of the TRS-80.”
Keeping Your Design Process Open
Keep in mind there are people resistant to technology or changes in their existing setup. Not everyone falls for the tremendous pressure to buy cell phones, e-readers, tablets and game boxes. For economic reasons, upgrading can be slow. We seem to forget that users are making choices. They’re not asking us for our opinions.
We can, however, ask for their opinions. We can emphasize with our site visitors.
If our website’s goal is to gather information, how might our questions and design feel? When an online store swears up and down they’re big on customer service, does this include finding new ways to listen to customers? Does your social site appreciate members and guests by showing you’re willing to accept them as they are and for what they are?
You may disagree with community members. Your personal world may be vastly different than theirs. Do you acknowledge that everyone has their place on the planet by offering affirmative cues of acceptance rather than rejection and animosity? Blog readers, conversation sites and forums contain users with personalities and feelings.
Sarcasm, bullying, polarizing and more may alienate users, which is something to think about when social conversation is tied to sales or brand.
How many of you talk to your computers as if they’re like a family pet? Do you name them? (I once named an office computer system “HAL”). More often what we’re doing with technology is simply creating new extensions of own selves.
By nature, we separate into groups based on culture, likes, dislikes, beliefs, education, gender, age, etc. We already know that not everyone can be pleased with the same thing because of our differences.
It’s what makes us unique that makes the term “user” hard to take. We’re far more than being an unidentified, loosely targeted user. People are complicated. We’ll support websites, promotions, software and communities who not only want us to be there, but are very glad we came.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.