You have been there. Or at least heard the stories. The service design team presents the results of their work, you take it in and feel it is not quite what you had in mind. You suggest some changes. Some more specific, some rather vague. Instead of making the changes, the design team presents you with arguments why this is not a good idea.
What happens next is a game of trust. Do you trust the professional you hired to do the job, or do you think that nobody knows your company better than yourself? Turning the question around and looking at it from the designers’ perspective — how far should we retreat from the solution we think is best? And if we do, does this mean that we have failed even if the client is satisfied?
To answer these two questions, let’s turn to metaphors.
Imagine a spectrum — on one end there is a guy with a paintbrush visualizing someone else’s fantasy and on the other end a famous artist doing his own thing.
A famous artist
If you’re looking to buy a piece from a famous artist, you don’t get to tell that “I want exactly this, but could you redo this corner so there is a puppy. And I don’t like the colours in the middle. And all in all — it is too abstract.” It is “take it or leave it” — either you like it and trust it is a good investment or you don’t.
A guy with a paintbrush
If you’re looking for someone to paint your walls, you call all the shots — which room, which colour. You could do the painting yourself; you just don’t have time and haven’t mastered the technique. But you know what needs to be done.
The interior decorator
Obviously, service/UX designers don’t represent either of the extremes, so let’s take something from the middle — an interior decorator perhaps? These guys do not only have technical skills, but they also have a vision about what goes together and what not and how would the kitchen be most ergonomic and practical. They will say that sleeping in a totally pink bedroom will slowly drive you mad or placing the oven under the fridge is not a particularly good idea. But in the end, you are the one living there — your home, your subjectivity. You are not stupid, because you don’t go along with the designer’s ideas, there are just different opinions and tastes.
Is that also the way service/UX design works? Well, not quite — because instead of pleasing only the owner, we have to please the guests.
Happy guests make a happy owner. There is no point in building a website or e-service the guests are uncomfortable or confused using, even if the owner really likes it. The same applies to physical public spaces like schools or hospitals.
If you decorate a home, the only person you have to get to know is the one who will live in it. If you build a public space online or in the real world, you have to know the users.
So, the subjective taste and opinions of the client do not matter that much anymore. Yes, everybody has preferences, but we don’t deal with the preferences of one or two people here. We have to find the balance to appeal to the anonymous crowd that are users.
Yes, nobody knows the company better than its leaders, but that can be a disadvantage. The simplest example is the wish to make the structure of a web follow the structure of the company, although the users don’t see inside nor do they care about the internal machine.
The things that seem elementary inside the company, can leave the user confused and lost. Which can lead the company to loss, not profit.
That is why service/UX designers are not that eager to make all the changes the client requests. Although we work for the client, our loyalties lie elsewhere — with the anonymous and elusive user we try to understand.
Coming back to the initial questions
How far should we retreat from the solution we think is best? And if we do, does this mean that we have failed even if the client is happy? My answers are “not very far” and “yes, we have failed”. Because in the long run the client is not happy when the e-service is a perfectly tailored suit for them, but too tight and itchy for the users.
So, I am not supposed to say anything? My opinion doesn’t count at all?
If that’s what you are thinking, please rest assured — it is not the case. Hiring service/UX designer is not like buying a painting from a famous artist. We need you to be in on the process, provide information and ask all the questions. Please voice your concerns as early as possible, but also listen to the answers. And trust us. It would be simple to do something that only you like, be the guy with a paintbrush. But that would be letting you down. We don’t want to let you down.