Consuming and transforming

“Consumer” is one of those words I’ve never been comfortable with. Along with “user”, it refers to real people as simply receptacles for whatever companies churn out for them. It’s a lazy, impersonal, demeaning, and ultimately unhelpful word.

Alex Bogusky thinks that as consumption is inevitable, people just need to be better consumers. I agree that’s needed, but still believe our word choice matters and can be improved. Lots of other people think so too.

The most obvious and simple change is to substitute “people” for these dirty words. That works almost universally, and I use it effectively in my design practice. But today I stumbled upon a use of another word that is more than benign–it’s empowering:

Transformation.

The article itself takes the side of “producers”, acknowledging that nothing is truly produced; it is merely transformed from one (perhaps natural) state to another. Carrying that theme through to the people we design for emphasizes that they too will transform what they receive, putting their stamp on it, doing good or ill with it.

Transformation happens to products, commodities, experiences, and ideas. The word transformation recognizes that people have the opportunity to improve what they receive, but also the responsibility of managing it.

I’m going to try substituting the word “transformer” for “person” in my work–probably just to myself at first–to see if it changes my design decisions.