The Client and I: First Rule of Design

Whether the client’s initial inquiry is unclear and vague, or incredibly detailed, you can be sure of one thing – the key components of the project’s specifications will be missing.

It may sound like an overstatement or exaggeration, but as far as I am concerned, it is just a fact of life. The following rule holds, in my experience, virtually universally, and one simply cannot be a good and successful designer without knowing it.

The first rule of design: The client has no idea what they want.

… and they will keep nagging until they get it, one can add with certainty. I am not exaggerating in the slightest.

Only a few times in my 20 years as a UX designer have I experienced the opposite – and each time it turned out that behind each educated client, who knew exactly what they wanted and where they were heading and why, stood the actual knowledge and practical experience of some guy on their team. Or perhaps this guy’s knowledge of said rule, and considerable personal efforts in a quest to disprove it. In the vast majority of cases, however, this rule has held up near perfectly.

Of course, every client’s initial request describes a more-or-less specific project and sets up a number of parameters that the result should fulfil. The level of detail can even become excessive, bordering on absurd. So, what gives me the confidence to claim that, nonetheless, they still do not know what they want?

It is all a question of priorities. And it is all due to the fact that the priorities of each such interactive application are, in actuality, entirely different from what they may seem at first glance. I will discuss the actual priorities of such applications, and what they are deemed as by our clients, in upcoming posts.

When it comes to objectives and priorities, however, various types of interactive applications can be markedly different. On, say, a fridge control panel, wrongly defined priorities and objectives or a poorly designed interface are not particularly noticeable. Worst case scenario, a review will pop up somewhere with a small, unimportant remark saying that “the fridge controls are not ideally designed”. But this will not be a crucial feature or a deal-breaker for a potential buyer.

This problem is most salient in applications that themselves exist as the product; it is here that the fulfilment of a client’s aims and plans becomes crucial. In this blog, we will deal with that which we are probably most familiar with: the creation of websites and online applications.