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This category is where I let my inner curmudgeon out to play for a bit. (Actually, he doesn’t play so much as rant and kick and tear up the grass. Oh well.)

So, yes, I know that centric has been an English word in good standing since the late 16th century. I’m also aware that it’s a perfectly acceptable suffix — how better to describe Galileo‘s heliocentric view of the universe?

What makes my eye start to twitch is how the suffix is used in business writing. Do you come across this as often as I do? Marketing philosophies are customer-centric. Direct mail tactics are audience-centric. Web navigation is user-centric. Enough! This buzzword (buzz affix?) needs to have its credentials revoked.

But it’s a particularly entrenched bit of jargon. Its staying power probably has to do with the fact that it seems like a pithy way to communicate an critical idea: what’s at the center, what’s most important. And that’s an attractive prospect in the business world, where it’s often hard to peel away the baloney and get to the heart of the matter.

The problem is that a term like customer-centric or user-centric is virtually meaningless, relying on a metaphor that’s vague and insubstantial at best. Plus, this particular conceit — that your customer is really, really important to you — is one of the biggest corporate clichés out there.

My quick fix is usually to substitute -centered for -centric. Granted, this doesn’t really address the problems I detail above, but it’s a small improvement. The better solution, of course, is to figure out what you’re actually trying to communicate, and then say it. For example:

The website features multiple audience-centric ways to navigate.

Any of the following sentences does a better job making a statement that’s specific and focused:

The website’s navigation features different paths for different audiences.
The website’s five navigation paths target five different audiences.
Users can navigate the website in several ways, based on what they’re looking for.

So, that’s the case against -centric. What do you think? Persuasive? Or poppycock? Speak up, if you like, in the comments section.



March 2010

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