Frankly, I think this was a throw-away article by Dr. Norman. Certainly I believe that the words we use to characterize a group can then reflect our motivations and feelings, but I believe he’s missing the point. This seems a little bit like political correctness run amok, or perhaps it’s touchy-feely user centered design 2.0 (UCD 2.0).
Now, don’t get me wrong. When I used to practice psychotherapy with clients, I knew that the words I chose to use could be very powerful. I even wondered whether or not I should refer to my clients as clients or patients. “Client” implied a paying customer whereas “patient” implied someone who was sick and needing healing. Were my clients offended? No. Did my characterization affect the work I did? No. Of course at the end of the day they were persons, but how do I characterize who they are otherwise? If I went home and spoke to my wife, would I tell her I was seeing a person or a client? You see how ridiculous this can become?
We use words to characterize the type of person we are referring to, and in business, it is important to distinguish between person types. If I am facilitating a business meeting or creating requirements documentation, isn’t it important that I identify the different stakeholder types – essentially indicating the types of people who have an interest in the product I am working on?
Yes, consumers, clients, customers, users, patients and the like are all people. That’s a given. However, don’t we already have personas to give design more of the “people” element? Frankly, if you’re so out of touch with the people you design for, then perhaps I can facilitate a therapy group so you can connect with your users.