“What the Heck Just Happened in There?”

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

As a result, we run the risk of committing the ultimate user experience design sin: we communicate to our project team and clients in our language and in relation to our goals, not theirs. We can lose sight of their context. Understanding clients in their context helps us sell our ideas in order to make them a reality.

  • Understanding Clients is a tool for new user experience designers and software team members to help them understand what their clients care about – beyond their customers – and how they think. This can increase the design team’s influence on the final product. Experienced digital project team members can use it to start conversations with their team about client management.

When you can communicate how your design meets stakeholder needs, your user-oriented design is more likely to make it to public viewing.

By understanding clients, you can design:

  1. A great user experience VS. just meeting project objectives
  2. An impact on organizational outcomes VS. just beautiful deliverables
  3. Repeat business VS. one-off engagements

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?

The designer 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.


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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