The designer’s job

This quote by author Neil Gaiman can be applied to product design as a whole:

“When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

This insight by Gaiman exposes a reason why the question “should we listen to our users?” is asked over and over and debated ad nauseam. The answer isn’t cut-and-dried. It doesn’t make sense to only say “you should listen to users” or “you shouldn’t listen to users” because within each of those statements is an assumption that you’ll do what users say (or not).

That’s where the confusion comes in. Product designers should never just blindly follow what users say without careful thought. It’s the designer’s job to first gather and then interpret feedback…while keeping the big picture (and budget) in mind. Without thoughtful analysis you’re not going to design an elegant solution. Instead, you’ll end up with one of two types of solutions: a brute force solution or first-pass solution. Each of these solutions are often just the same recommendations that users make themselves (the ones Gaiman warns against).

So in the end we should definitely listen to users, but only to self report their experience and not to do our jobs for us.

Published: February 4th, 2014

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