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Seeing the woods for the trees

As web developers and designers, most of us work within the strict confines of a process. Whether this process involves user testing or not (and if it doesn’t… why!?!?!), our usual parameters of work revolve around the client and their expectations of us. While this is all very well and good and delivers a product the client wants, it has inherent let downs which most of us don’t really think about.

Young developers and designers out of college are clean slates. They are the rough cuts we get to shape into the diamonds they want and we need them to be. Full of vim and excitement, they don’t know about process’, they don’t know about methodologies. These are abstract notions they discussed in class in college and now are expected to conform to. They just want to build websites and make cool stuff. It takes a while to get past that shell-shocked stage to understanding what working to timelines and schedules mean, but above all else, it takes a while to get used to dealing with clients.

Clients are demanding animals. They want everything and they want it now. Why do they want this? Well, part of the reason is that they are web users themselves and have seen things online that they want to include in their websites. It doesn’t really matter how relevant it is to their content or their business, they want it anyway. And they’re the client, right? So they get what they want.

I’ve found to my detriment that you should never say no to a client. Some of you will be saying “hang on a minute here” at that statement, but it’s true. Never use negative language with a client. Don’t say ‘no’. It took me a long time to work this out, but there’s a rationale behind it. Client’s don’t want to hear no. Saying no to a client is a very counter-productive message. They have ridiculous expectations of their website? Explain why they are ridiculous expectations. They want irrelevant functionality? Explain why it’s irrelevant. Don’t say no.

All this brings us to the crux of our problem. Clients don’t know what they want, they only think they know what they want. Clients also don’t know what their users want. Rarely do they know what it’s like to be their own customer. Their requirements and requests are internal; introverted in their viewpoint. They are what they want, often without consideration for the customer. They will give you direction saying things like “Our customers need access to ‘x’ information” but they have no facts, figures or user testing results to backup these requests.

So as developers and designers, and certainly as people working in the User Experience field, it is important for us to take all these different ingredients available to us, and mix them in a big pot to deliver the best product we can. Use the young energy to create solutions which are new and exciting. Encourage the old heads to guide and focus. But above all else, help the client see the woods. It is important to ask the questions and put them in the position to understand, not only what they want of themselves, but also what their users and their clients expect of them. I was going to call this post “Your client’s clients are your client”. That’s probably a bit abstract and also not entirely true, so rather than get clever, let’s just stick to the point. Help your clients see the woods past the trees.