Users or consumers?

I’ve just been reading this article about how capitalism has changed our language in the last 200 years, and the move from talking about people as users of products to consumers. “How capitalism has changed our language”

There is an old computer joke that about programmers referring to their customers as users, but this article highlighted to me something deeper that feeds into something about how technology is shaping our world.

Software development, when it works best, happens with active users rather than passive consumers, people who have an active interest in the problem the software is designed to solve, and sometimes ideas on how to solve it.

The biggest red flag I have to indicate the success or failure of a software project is the lack of user engagement. If no-one on the project team is a user, or is listening to the users, the project will almost certainly fail.

Software customers are not consumers, and often the user is not a customer, and they will only use the software they are forced to use by management or that they are comfortable with, and will likely not use it if they know a better alternative. If we can’t write software that engages users and makes their life easier, they will not use it.

This may not be a problem unique to software development, but at least the language of software recognises that there is a problem to solve, and that the user experience is the difference between software that delights and software that frustrates.

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