I often ask my clients,

“Would you really go into a room filled with your customers and stakeholders and say ‘Hello, users.‘?    Kind of insulting and off-putting, isn’t it?”

It seems to be – as it often is in UxP – an issue of perspective.

I usually try to locate the Point of Viewright here


The Rhetorical You

In documentation and when describing activities and behavior in on-screen directions and guidance, I try to keep the perspective relatively (and I mean that literally) “me-centric” by using The Rhetorical You.

i.e. “You consider the list of options” and then “You click on this button“.

The Rhetorical You is easily understood:

It’s how you talk. It’s how you give directions. It’s personal. It’s immediate. It’s user-centric because it puts you in the experiential driver’s seat, no matter who you are.

For purposes of clarification, you can always say something like, “You would – as a Visitor – see this option. You would – as an Agent– see these choices.”

  • It’s simple and conversational.
  • It communicates unambiguously.
  • And it always keeps the contextuser-centric“.- but without the off-putting, awkward label.

I reserve the term “user” to be used as a very specific descriptor (as I have here), not as a generic label.

Just Your Type

Alan_TC[1]Thanks to Alan Cooper (“About Face” 1995) for this thumbnail description some of the needs of these 3 “types” of audience.

The interface of any well-designed product should be customizable and responsive to the needs of each.

Imagine users as very intelligent, but very busy.  — Alan Cooper


  • Beginner : What does the program do?
  • Intermediate : What’s this Gizmo for?
  • Expert : How do I automate this?


  • Beginner : What is the scope?
  • Intermediate : Oops! Can I undo?
  • Expert : What are shortcuts for this?


  • Beginner : Where do I start?
  • Intermediate : Remind me of what this does.
  • Expert : How can I customize this?


  • Beginner : Show me where and how.
  • Intermediate : I forgot how to… Guide me.
  • Expert : Can this be changed?



Beginners are not stupid. Intermediates need access to tools. Experts want shortcuts to everything. –Alan Cooper

Roles = Agendas

Let’s not forget that there are not just different calibers of users (beginner, intermendiate, expert) – There are usually several different user roles. A given site or app may have several different people involved with it: a Customer, an Administrator, a Salesperson, a Vendor, an Agent…

Each of these roles has a different agenda – even if they’re all touching the same product. And you need to address each one as an individual.


Wordsmithing the Concept

Dilemma: The value & entity issues of “user experience” and “user interface” are still a work in progress with stakeholders in the business (tho we’re almost there), so wordsmithing user out of the title might be premature right now. It’s a topic that’s still very front & center – and we need to talk about it.

Yet, the unfortunate terminology of “user” needs to be addressed. It really is kinda icky in an impersonal, tonedeaf kind of way – but it’s commonly used. I’d say, stick with the current terminology, and then use it as a jumping-off point for making some valuable observations about “you-centricity”


We do a better job of making people comfortable with what we do when we don’t casually label them as “users“.


© The Communication Studio LLC