New UX User Categorizations to ease user research

Last Modified: May 8th, 2021 - Category: Essays, UX, UX Research, UX Theory
Ux user categorization research

Do we need new UX User categorizations? And if so, how and why? Are there any benefits or is it just a fad? Let’s try to answer these questions in this article.

In the article HCI: Great user experiences are meant only for humans… or not? we saw how the current state of technology forces us to consider the (very likely) possibility of non human-users, including cibernetic entities. In order not to scald the fundamentalists of the User = Human concept, we will refer to these users as X Entities.

Of course, as we have already seen, the concept of User = Human (or the whole HCI discipline) is extremely limited and does not even cover the Human concept. Let’s look at the following picture:

ux user categorizations: image of baby toys

Obviously, the user will be a baby. Anyone who has ever had children knows very well that they will express their likes or dislikes towards these objects. As researchers, we can easily measure performances and satisfaction levels, or even extract scientific conclusions towards new designs.

And yet this user will be completely and utterly incapable of having any interaction with objects unless an adult mediates.

Furthermore, we will consider the child’s family and relationships as users, even though their relationship with the object will be indirect at best.


I buy a pacifier or dummy for the baby. I find it esthetically pleasing, the materials are of good quality, the size is right, and the price fits my budget.

After I buy the product, I give it to my baby, who unceremoniously rejects it after trying it out.

Just like that.

To make matters worse, the baby wants his pacifier and expresses this by crying and wailing, so I have to hurriedly buy another one of a different brand and style until I find the right one.

Goodbye UX development, goodbye gentlemen from marketing, goodbye everyone, all your science was for nothing.

No doubt the users of this example are more than unhappy. And guess what: these ignored UX users represent 8% of the world’s population in one of the industries that move the most money in the world.

So … who is the user?

Based on traditional definitions, the parent. Based on empirical experience, the child. But in reality, nothing is clear, and we could well say both.

And the animals? Are animals users?

user research: are animals users? Image of dog with toy
Can we consider animals as UX users?

The same previous case.

The user is actually the animal, but the indirect satisfaction will be for the owner: The happier and more cheerful our puppy is, the happier we and those around us will be.

By the way, this is a user research prototypical case: Whether we consider the dog or the owner as the user… We can measure their reactions and satisfaction levels with scientific methods!

Cybernetic Users or Cyber Entities

The cyber-user concept is one that elicits the most disapproval from those trained in classical UX concepts of Human Computer Interaction (HCI).

However, it is very easy to prove that today’s technology requires us to consider cybernetic entities as users. These entities include Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, robots, IoT entities, and many more.

Want to know how easy it is to prove?

Well, many people have a website. If they want to have free traffic, their websites need to be listed in Search Engines, and in as high positions as possible.

To do that, the website owner or a designated developer will use a number of techniques known as SEO.

When Search Engine crawls a website to determine what position it will be listed in, many processes are involved.

The website owner must do certain things that meet the requirements of a Artificial Intelligence algorithm ( hence, a cyber entity). However, the website owner does not interact with this cyber entity. She will interact with her own computer, which is an example of a classic HCI scenario.

But the website is hosted on a server. And once it’s on the server, the pages start generating experiences based on processes. These processes include content, speed, coding, media usage, word repetition, responsiveness, mobile behavior, etc.

At this point, the Search Engine algorithm (a cyber entity or cyber user) interacts with the server (another cyber entity or cyber user) based on the experiences generated by the web pages.

We refer to this whole process as XCI (X-Computer Interaction) or XMI (X-Model Interaction). And of course we can measure everything and do user research with these UX users. Moreover, in this case, we could do research on multiple human users!

This is just one simple, mundane case. There are countless (any IoT process for starters). But if you want more cases, just think about the ads you see when you use your social media accounts or the products you see on online marketplaces.

A proposal for new UX user categorizations

It is obvious that the classical definitions lead us to a very ambiguous situation and are clearly insufficient to define all cases.

This concept was already discussed in several articles in this site since it’s the core of XCI / XMI and Quantum UX. Without these new UX user categorizations, we wouldn’t be able to use any of these new paradigms.

To solve this dilemma, we need to stop seeing users only as end-users and consider UX users as actors and entities that fulfill roles and have different levels of perception and interaction. Thus we arrive at the concept of User Affinity, which defines users in two broad branches:

  • Direct Experience Users (DEU)
  • Indirect Experience Users (IEU)

In both cases, the experiences can be conscious or unconscious.

UX users definition diagram
UX Users Definitions Diagram

Direct experiences user

In the case of Direct Experience Users, these are those users who have direct contact or experience with the object or service, regardless of their role as consumer or active participant in decision making. In each of their perceptions, they are considered as original users.

This experience can be conscious (we will call it Conscious Direct Experience Users or CDEU for its acronym) or unconscious, which we will call Unconscious Direct Experience Users or UDEU.

In the first case (conscious), it is the experience that the user has with full consciousness. This user is a typical user.

In the second case, the user has a direct experience but is not aware of it (at least not as a designed intention), but the user perceives a sensation that he attributes to natural causes, chance, psycho-physical states, etc. This user can be called I-user (I for Inconscious).

Indirect experience user

These are those users whose experience comes from the experience of another original user, reformulating and categorizing that experience as their own. The greater the growth in the measurable variables of the original user experience, the higher the level of indirect experience.

As in the case of Direct Experience, this experience can be conscious (we will call it Conscious Indirect Experience Users or CIEU for its acronym) or unconscious, which we will call Unconscious Indirect Experience Users or UIEU.

In the case of CIEU, the user is aware that he is having an experience that comes from another. If we take the example of the father and the baby, the degree of satisfaction of the child with the pacifier will impact directly on the general level of satisfaction of the parents.

Following the concept of operant conditioning by B. F. Skinner, we will call this user an operant user. Skinner, was one of the most important theorists of behavioral psychology, and the inventor and developer of many of the concepts we use in user research nowadays.

Finally, in the case of UEII, the user has an experience of his own, but is not aware of it as a designed user experience.


When we stand in line at a supermarket, we have many overlapping experiences. But we may not perceive that a good computer system allows the cashier to perform her job in a simpler and more dynamic way, leading to a higher degree of satisfaction with the global experience on our part. 

The UEII is common in this type of more complex process because the cognitive processes allow us to assimilate only certain parts of the information. We will call this concept internalized user, since its recognition comes in part from the concept of internalization developed by Lev Vygotsky, one of the great theorists of Learning Psychology.

To summarize…

Properly identifying our users is the fundamental tool for more effective actions, products and services that will generate higher returns.

Disclaimer: This content was translated to English from the original we wrote in Spanish, available in UXpañol

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