Disdain for [insert stereotyped group here] by any other name...(was TechCrunch defends the life of the "user")
6 Aug 2007 - 6:07pm
While I think historically, programmers in general followed a different path
than designers and pioneers in the field of human factors, the
generalizations below apply an equally biased, unrealistic view against one
group in favor of another. You provide Unix and IT Security as examples of
programmers' disdain for "users", yet those very examples are somewhat
isolated bastions where true usability and innovative design have yet to
In almost every other people-to-people facing system, programmers I have
worked with have a healthy regard for what their "users" want. Quite often,
they lack the skills to see their systems from their user's perspective, but
I would not equate that with "hatred for the user".
In this day and age, the majority of programmers I have met (ok, my
perspective perhaps) have had to fill the designer, developer, business
analyst, project manager, tester, support and USER roles, so you would have
a hard time finding programmers *in the general population* who don't want
to build usable applications.
Far too often, where you see cynical, sarcastic remarks from programmers
about their user population, it's where some wise-cracking "user-focused"
person made them extremely defensive by labeling them as "user hating
Incidentally, from a strict risk-analysis perspective, it's impossible to
ignore people's habits (for better or worse) when evaluating IT security.
Call it "social engineering" or "users are the weakest link", but you might
say the better security experts use their knowledge of human behavior to
force applications to account for habits that get people in trouble (e.g.
propensity to write down forced-numeric passwords).
I wouldn't generalize and say everyone is a saint, but picking sides (users
vs developers) doesn't help, either.
I do agree with your point that "Design" is perhaps the best term for what
we do, and perhaps it really needs no other modifier. I have had at least
20 different job titles, and half of them boiled down to me doing what I
love to do - design.
...I was going to suggest the use of "I" but someone write it
before. For visualising in the design process it may work.
The background of "user" in computing is not positive. It's
basically one layer more in the system. Not even the direction of the
interactivity is user-centric; as one software engineer professor told
us once: "Input/Output is CPU-centric, that's why most coders
doesn't get it (the direction of interactivity and information) at
the first time". This means that input methods are not an input of
information to users' minds, it's an input of code to the CPU.
Output doesn't comes from the user experience but from the CPU
There's being a historical disdain for the user from most software
developers, even using the name "luser" (reading: loser). In this
way, the user can be thought as another CPU... and a clumsy one. Some
"Unix is simple. It just takes a genius to understand its
simplicity." %u2013 Dennis Ritchie
"UNIX was not designed to stop its users from doing stupid things,
as that would also stop them from doing clever things." %u2013 Doug
"Unix is user-friendly. It just isn't promiscuous about which users
it's friendly with." %u2013 Steven King
This are Unix-specific but still. And it's also common in security
to use concepts such as "social engineer", "the weakest security
layer/element are users". And there's the assumption of a
difference between "classes": (computer)>coder>power-user>user
"User Centered Design" is a way of saying that all this history is
wrong, but using the same concepts. This idea should be implicit, not
the center of a design philosophy. IMO, we should call it just
"Design" and elevate the standards of satisfaction for (users).
Even concept of interface is almost like treating objects and
subjects as equal systems interfacing to form a machine, the Matrix
(...or w-e). Isn't interaction similar? from wikipedia:
"interaction is a kind of action that occurs as two or more OBJECTS
have an effect upon one another."
I support using "I" (when designing, speaking in "human
language") and "user" (when coding, speaking in "machine
language") ie: the "home directory": /Users/I