The End of the “End User”

Ingrid Domingues

The words we use create preconceptions in people's minds. Therefore, I suggest a bold shift in how we name users. Let’s change “Key Users”  to proxy users and “End Users” to users. By doing so we can help people in purchasing, planning and development of digital solutions to make a vital focus shift.

In my 30+ years of practice in the world of digital services there have been huge developments. I started as a programmer in the 80's. At that time we were building mainframe systems. Most of the people affected by the solutions did not have direct access to systems, rather it was programmers and sysops that were the users. (Yes!)  So, using the word “end users” as the name for those affected by the systems was both natural and appropriate at that time. Today, not so much.

Today, you and I can choose which services to use and how to use them. The services are highly interactive, hosting and encouraging conversations and learning. Development of successful services is something that is achieved through close interaction between skilled development teams and users. Not proxies.

Still, a lot of administrative solutions today make users do the most horrible things. There are also solutions in the public sector that force employees and citizens to struggle to outsmart the system. Solutions causing failure demand and stress in the digital workplace.

A sad misunderstanding

I believe that one important reason for this landscape of “shitty” solutions, actually is the sad misunderstanding about the types of “users” in the purchase, planning and development of digital solutions. Proxy users, which can mean key users, managers, salespersons or others, are usually given the predominant role. This is because business people actually believe that “Key users” have a better understanding of user needs, than mere “end users” do.

I am not saying that proxy users lack knowledge. On the contrary, they can give an overview of recurrent problems. But they lack the goldmine of information you need to create great design, namely how users do, why users do as they do, and why certain problems occur. Proxy users can direct you to where to look closer, but are useless to give the details needed.  

Understand why

If you ever are going to build a service that users truly enjoy and appreciate, you need to understand user values, expectations and WHY they have the problems they’ve reported. This means meeting users. In their context. And using that understanding of needs and expectations for any design and management decision on users daily life.

Meet with proxies to gain an overall understanding and get insights on where to focus. Meet with users to gain insights for innovation.

Let us end the era of “end users”!

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