From Customer to Consumer to User

This change happened in my lifetime – the last half of the 20th Century. This was characterized by Industry, Television, and the Computer.

I was born in an Industrial town, Ft. Madison, Iowa, in 1936. The West End of town was dominated by the Santa Fe Railroad – and the East End by the Sheaffer Pen Company. It had the two fundamentals of Industry – Transportation and Manufacturing.

Ft. Madison was a part of the huge manufacturing complex in the American Midwest that produced half of the World’s goods at the time – as well as much of its agricultural produce. Chicago, not far away, was the Hog Butcher to the World.

It had jobs and lots of them. And it knew how to do everything.

Then came the TV. And its impact was overwhelming. People didn’t have to go to the movies anymore. The movies were delivered to them, in their living rooms – for free! People were no longer active customers, choosing what they wanted to buy – they were passive consumers¬†– buying whatever they saw advertised on their TV.

Then came the Computer – which people saw as an extension of the TV – only better! And they had the same passive attitude toward it. It was there to entertain them. And that was all they wanted – better entertainment!

This consumer culture quickly became global. People did not think about their situation – they only wanted more of everything. And they saw no reason whey they should not have this. They wanted what the saw on their TVs – and then what they saw on their smartphones.

They did not care how the Computer – with its networks, the Internet and the Wireless – worked, but Business did. And quickly took advantage of it.

This resulted in a new way of doing business – and a new relationship to those who used their services. Who became users.

A new kind of worker also emerged – knowledge workers. Who understood what was going on in the computer scene – and were well-rewarded for their efforts.

A new symbiosis appeared between companies and their users. They both needed each other!

They had to develop a new relationship toward each other for each new kind of product that was developed. This meant a new user interface (UX) had to be developed, with the company and its users, inventing it with each other!

Gone were the days when a business knew everything. It now had to assume it knew nothing – and it would have to work in the dark, rapidly trying out new ideas – with its users.


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