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The Elastic User

Although satisfying the user is our goal, the term “user” causes trouble. Its imprecision makes it as unusable as a chainsaw is for removing someone's appendix. We need a more precise design tool.

Whenever I hear the phrase “the user,” it sounds to me like “the elastic user.” The elastic user must bend and stretch and adapt to the needs of the moment. However, our goal is to design software that will bend and stretch and adapt to the user's needs. Programmers have written countless programs for this mythical elastic consumer, but he simply doesn't exist. When the programmer finds it convenient to dump the user into the Windows file system to find the information she needs, he defines the elastic user as an accommodating, computer-literate power user. Other times, when the programmer finds it convenient to step the user through a difficult process with a mindless wizard, he defines the elastic user as an obliging, naïve, first-time user. Designing for the elastic user gives the developer license to code as he pleases while paying lip service to “the user.” Real users are not elastic.


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