Non-User Actors

Lens: Type: Characteristic
Non-User Actors:

People and objects in a context that are not the user.

Photo: lisa_indever
woman walking down wooded path with dog

Not everyone in a setting is an active participant in the activity a person is trying to complete. However, non-user actors are still an essential part of experience design scenes — Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory values participant and non-participant actors as integral parts of a context. The theory, while somewhat embattled, is a useful tool for examining how all the actors in a context relate and can affect one another. For example, when a person uses their phone while walking down a sidewalk in a city, their attention is dedicated to the content on the phone. The interaction involves the person (user), the phone, and the content on the phone. However, trees with low-hanging branches could affect their experience. A child walking a Weimaraner puppy could distract our user from their phone use. Uneven pavement could cause the user to trip or at least become more focused on their steps than phone usage. The Non-User Actors aspect highlights the role of external actors and gives them agency in the experience design scene.

Researching Non-User Actors

When designers research non-user actors, they account for external factors that can impact a person’s activities in an experience design scene. It also gives agency to non-user actors like people, plants, animals, and other living things that can designers often neglect when they are focused intently on the activity they are designing. This research helps designers account for actors in a scene that could positively or negatively affect a person’s experience. It also reminds designers that the things we create can impact the natural environment and non-human actors in profound ways.

Questions to Ask About Non-User Actors

  • Who and what is involved in this scene?
  • What actors are often forgotten?
  • When a person completes an activity, what “gets in their way” or can distract?
  • What people, plants, animals, and objects have we not accounted for in the scene we are exploring?

Look for These When Researching Non-User Actors

  • Animals
  • Plants
  • Things that “get in the way”
  • Objects that are walked on, moved and manipulated that aren’t part of a user’s primary activities


References and sources that support the inclusion of this Aspects of Experiences for Design component.


Callon, M. (2004). Actor-Network Theory: The Market Test. In J. A. H. Law, J. (Ed.), Actor Network Theory and After (pp. 181-195). London: Blackwell Press.


Latour, B. (2004). Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern. Critical Inquiry, 30(2), 225-248.

Latour, B. (2005). What is the Style of Matters of Concern? Two Lectures on Empirical Philosophy.

Ritzer, G. (2004). Actor Network Theory (Encyclopedia of Social Theory). London: Sage.

Social Sciences

Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179-211. doi:10.1016/0749-5978(91)90020-T