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Resources: UPA 2006 Idea Markets

In usability testing, is it true that “the customer (the client) is always right?”

Activators: Christine Paulsen , American Institutes for Research

Thought Starter Questions

  1. Our clients are getting more and more educated about usability, what challenge(s) does this pose for us as usability professionals?
  2. How do you meet the needs of clients who need better information about usability, research, and design?
  3. How do you encourage clients who want to know more—what resources do you share with clients?

Idea Market Participants Observations on the Problem

Our usability clients, both internal and external customers, have various levels of usability, research, and design expertise. Some are educated enough to make helpful suggestions, while others know very little, yet expect to drive the usability research process anyway. Of course, usability projects are often influenced by internal politics and agendas as well. One participant observed, “There is no shortage of web designers at the CEO level.”

The goal of the usability professional is to listen to and understand the needs of the client (haven't we always been told the customer is always right?), while simultaneously balancing the need for objective, useful research. Sometimes it is easy to balance these two objectives. The goal of this Idea Market discussion was to provide tips and hints for how to deal with situations in which the two objectives seem to conflict or are challenging for the usability professional to balance.

Suggestions for Achieving Balance

Idea Market participants suggested the following strategies:

First step: Build trust.

  • Remember to keep the client's needs in mind. In the face of clients who may have a biased view of the project, or may be misinformed about proper research approaches, or may just lack design savvy, usability professionals still need to listen and remain empathic.
  • Follow a model of collaboration and cooperation. Acknowledge and respect the client's expertise. After all, they are an expert when it comes to their product. Clients can tell when you're really listening and respecting their input. Doing so will provide the foundation for a solid relationship in which the client will begin to see you as a trusted resource. This lays the groundwork for the second step, educating (or, in some cases, re-educating) your client.

Second step: Educate.

  • Share the stories of other clients with similar products or those who have faced similar issues. Tell them what approach you took and how it helped the client achieve their goals.
  • Invite the client to observe users interacting with their product. At the very least, share video clips of users struggling with a client's interface. Better yet, show users struggling with that little doo-dad that the client insists on including in their interface.
  • Educate clients at the “visceral” level. Share with them the implications of bad design choices on their financial bottom line, on their product development timeframe, and their ability to meet their business objectives.

Third step: Be proactive for the future.

  • Try to identify “champions” at the corporate level who understand that you are the usability expert and will give you the freedom to design studies that are based on good research practice and won't be subject to other non-expert opinions about how they should be designed.
  • Take the time to know and understand your client's needs right from the start.
  • Be prepared to educate your clients. Have a stash of resources, case studies, and hard-hitting video clips at your disposal so you can educate your clients with the stories of other clients who were determined to learn the hard way about good research design and best practices.



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