Who is a user?
by Prayas Abhinav
Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 35 seconds
Users are people who are relegated no agency in the product lifecycle. They only receive the benefit of the product and offer participation and membership in the community surrounding the product. Users are consumers. When they have an extended role in the product lifecycle, they are called prosumers. Prosumers labour without expecting a reward that equals the value of their labour. They get willingly exploited in exchange for functionality. The functionality often offers them a critical use value which is much more desirable than the displeasure of being exploited.
But without being critical of the user role, we can try to appreciate it. The user’s compact with the designer is specific and limited. Which frees her from many responsibilities which would get in the way of attending to her own plans and priorities for putting the product or service to use. And this is an important point. Only if the user is free from the responsibility of improving the product will she be able to effectively give an authentic use case to the product and genuinely put it to test. Every use of a product or service is a test. And every time a test is failed, the user starts searching for alternative ways to fulfil their requirement or need. Products or services really want to be connected to authentic requirements or needs. And when this connection does not happen — a diagnosis of the problem needs to be done.
It will invariably be found that products or services have not been put to use because the actual use-case has not been understood well enough. Because it has not been understood well, the product or service has not been given any specific features to deal with the unforeseen use-case. It has not been designed well in that sense. Not designed for the real world. Users and use-cases belong to the real world. Far away from the ideal world in which all products and services have passionate users.
Users who are not simple users and do not like to have an ordinary compact with the designer of the product are prosumers. Prosumers are expert users who have an expanded set of skills and capabilities. They like to improve or at least customise the tools they use. And for this freedom they prioritise tools which are open. They even ascribe a moral value around the granting of freedom by the designers. But the important distinction to be made here is the difference between users who desire ease of use and functionality to solve problems in other parts of their lives and the users who require customised tools with functionality suited to them. In this distinction, we will call the first set of users ordinary users. We know the second set of users as prosumers. When ordinary users need extra features in the tools they use, they file a feature request and hope that a lot of other users also need their feature so that the designers include it in the feature roadmap. When prosumers require extra features, they either hack or modify (if the designers have granted that freedom) the product.