Radicle blog / 'Designing for People' vs 'Designing for Humans' vs 'Designing for Users'

Let us contemplate what each of these titles connotes. People, from Latin populus “a people, nation; body of citizens; a multitude, crowd, throng;” meaning “common people, masses” (as distinguished from the nobility). This last connotation forms the strongest impression on me, as it makes me wonder if I want to be designing for ‘the masses,’ or for ‘the nobility;’ which question I consider to be more valid if I take nobility in a figurative sense. What I mean is this: do I want to design for the common way that people are, or for the way in which each individual can be thought of being regent of her own domain. Forgive me if I am not conveying my point. I like to think that a kind of nobility resides in everyone, and I want to direct my designing rather to bring that noble part to be more expressed (to the degree that design can do that), than to reinfoce our so-called lower nature (and a top-of-mind example of that last kind of design is what we call ‘click bait,’ which exploits human psychology to our detriment).

Looking at Humans, I find the term to be rather endearing: from L. humanus “of man, human,” also “humane, philanthropic, kind gentle, polite; learned refined, civilized.” Boom. I think we have a winner. I shall not even consider Users, but will mention only in passing that its utility in my eyes is (a) valid and (b) lies in its clarifying suggestion as to what is being designed, ie some kind of ‘tool,’ or ‘technology,’ because what else does a ‘user’ go with? But back to Humans. Isn’t that so wonderful? I aspire to design for the noble, that is, the human part of ourselves; not the mean, vulgar, common part (mean and vulgar actually both mean common).

And thus I am encouraged in my styling myself a Human Interface Designer, I mean I am encouraged that this is the term that resonates most with me and is most suggestive of the sentiments that move me.

(With thanks to Douglas Harper of etymonline.com for the etymologies.)

—Raphael Schindler
12 Jul 2017