“You are not the user,” “the client is not the user,” and “the company is not the user” are three dissentious phrases that are often said in meetings, discussions, and articles about user-centered design. These simple phrases imply that the client’s goals aren’t the same as a user’s goals. And that’s the thing—the client’s goals aren’t the same. Despite the differences, developers and designers must learn to balance both business and user goals to reach the ultimate user-centered design.
It’s not always about the user
The CEO of a company, the board of directors, and the sales director often feel that they (and only they), know what a customer wants and needs. These upper-level roles dictate design—it doesn’t matter if they’ve been presented with data that suggests a feature isn’t working or isn’t functioning the way the user wants it. In reality, these higher-up business people are essentially in the same position as the engineers and designers; they are too involved in the product to know what the user wants. At this point, the guy with the biggest paycheck calls all the shots.
Clients are hard-pressed for money, time, people, patience, and knowledge. It doesn’t matter if there’s a new feature that you know you can completely “wow” the user with. If the company can’t produce the content for the amazing feature or can’t hire staff to support the amazing feature, then the amazing feature can’t happen and it won’t happen.
For example, one well-known B2B company sold large and expensive equipment to small businesses. However, they sold their products through a long-tail sales process instead of through an online store. Data showed that the quality of the company’s leads drastically improved when the user could search for the product online, read reviews, and gain more details about specific products. In response, the B2B company built an online catalog of their products with photos, descriptions, and detailed technical specs. Although the user was happy, the manufactures were not. The B2B company sold products from a wide variety of manufacturers; however they neglected to secure partnerships with each manufacturer. The B2B company didn’t have the right to access the manufacturers’ images and copy them onto their website.
The B2B company had data from surveys and tests that supported the need for the online store feature. In this case, the designers and developers didn’t have to argue the necessity for the feature. The business-side interfered with the design-side. Designers have to take into account that the client is a user, too.
The client-user “pain points” include lack of content, lack of resources, lack of personnel, and lack of knowledge
Put yourself in the client’s shoes. Does the feature lack content? Will the client have to hire a writer, videographer, or a photographer? Does the feature lack resources? Does the client need to purchase additional software? Many engineers, project managers, and designers simply cut out the proposed feature instead of addressing these barriers.
Create solutions that meet the needs of the user and the client
Create fallbacks and design for empty states. You can code if/else statements that achieve a goal of consistency across templates. You can even create a fallback that’s as simple as “Image Unavailable” for a specific item.
Create designs that will meet the future needs of the user and the client. For example, a designer should implement designs that can maintain their effectiveness and usability over the long run. It should be easy to add or remove content to the design at any time.
Track where your users are running into issues. Keep track of when certain products or categories need unique content created. For example, instead of shelling out the cash to produce new images of everything in your 1000+ catalog, use your data to determine which 30-40 categories can be addressed first.
User-centered design isn’t a war between the public user and the client. By balancing business goals with user goals, you can create a win-win solution for everyone involved.