“What the Heck Just Happened in There?”

User experience designers spend a lot of time adding to and refining their professional toolkit: research methods, workshop methods, prototyping tools, presentation tools, what’s new in interaction, devices and visual design trends. It can become their world.

As a result, they run the risk of committing the ultimate user experience design sin: they communicate to their project team and clients in their language and in relation to their goals, not the client’s. We can lose sight of context. Understanding clients in their context helps sell design ideas.

The disconnect between a designer’s understanding of the problem and the client’s context is usually brought to my attention when one of my team approaches me after a project meeting and says, “What the heck just happened in there?

  • As the designer entered the meeting to give their presentation, they knew their customer details, best practices in design and presented a great design deliverable. Then, the presentation went sideways: off-topic discussions, technical discussions, someone proposed a lesser design idea as a substitute, etc. The designer left the meeting confused, feeling unheard, and generally pissed off.

To prevent this, I spend a lot of time both prepping my team for meetings and deconstructing meetings to increase the odds that meetings stay on track by explicitly addressing business concerns as part of the design presentation, and coaching designers on empathizing with their client group. My bosses did the same for me. I’m paying it forward.

Understanding Clients is a set of questions, personas, and 20 years of experience to help:

  • New user experience designers and software team members understand what clients care about and how they think. This ability to empathize can increase the design team’s influence on the final product.
  • Experienced digital project team members start conversations with their team about client management.

When you can communicate how your design meets client needs, your design is more likely to make it to public viewing.

Understanding clients is the difference between:

  1. A great user experience, or meeting stated project objectives
  2. An impact on organizational outcomes, or beautiful deliverables that are not used in the final project
  3. Repeat business for your agency, or one-off engagements


One thought on ““What the Heck Just Happened in There?”

  1. I just had this happen last Friday…thankfully, nipped it in the bud. Met with client on Monday, listened, adjusted, threw away all my “research and best practices” and just listened to him. In this case, he was the expert. Great conversation – I am really looking forward to more (and not just because we know each other).


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