Good Design Starts with the User
We needed to talk to our audience, so we ran a series of qualitative research interviews with senior people from some of the biggest companies in Australia, including Lonely Planet, Telstra, CarSales.com.au, ANZ, and iSelect. During these interviews, we showed people early versions of our visual identity, our messaging, and our presentations. We tested some industry terminology to see what words people understood. We ran exercises to learn about what qualities of a digital agency are important to people. And we talked about the process of working with an agency from the client’s point of view.
Some Things We Learned
These were our key takeaways from the research:
- Be humble.
- Avoid industry jargon.
- Forget about awards.
- Tell people who you really are.
Agencies often lapse into a pretty bold, confident tone of voice when they talk about themselves. We tested communications that proudly declared: “We’re experts.” “We’re the best.” People like strong messaging, right?
This was actually a big turn off for people. They disliked even hearing the word expert. This was a great lesson to learn. When you’ve spent years working on your skills in a certain area, it’s natural to want to tell people how good you are. But rather than making big claims, a better approach is to quietly state your achievements and let people draw their own conclusions. Humility is important.
Avoid Industry Jargon
It’s probably pretty obvious that clients don’t understand terms like contextual inquiry or behavioral mapping. But everyone knows what information architecture is, right? That’s not what we found. In fact, of the industry terms that we tested, this was one that almost everyone struggled to define.
We’ve learned to avoid jargon as much as possible, even those things which seem obvious. In fact, this was part of our decision to call ourselves a digital design consultancy instead of a UX consultancy.
Of course, if we’re talking to an agile or UX aficionado, they need to hear details about how we work. We’ve learned to vary our message according to the audience.
Choose your words carefully.
We found some evidence that customer experience and its connection to return on investment is widely understood—even at a very senior level.
The same is not necessarily true for the term user experience, which is a more specialized term.
Forget About Awards
When we ran card-sorting exercises to find out what was important to people, awards was always the first to get the chop. A common sentiment was: “I know how awards work. It’s just people patting their mates on the back.” People also objected to the amount of time and money their agencies invested in entering their work for and winning awards.
We removed all of the references to awards from our communications, and it’s safe to say that we won’t be entering our work for any awards in the future.
Another point of view…
It’s a pretty fundamental psychological principle that people often aren’t aware of their own cognitive processes. There may be some implicit benefit in how people perceive an agency when they talk about awards.
Tell People Who You Really Are
Sometimes it’s easy to focus on the hard facts about your team—like your experience and skills. It can also be tempting to hide who you really are behind a facade of professionalism.
As an experiment, we added some personal information to our company communications and tested the response. “Ollie’s a chess nerd.” “Michael’s a proud new dad.” People loved this. It was amazing how revealing some small details about who we really are helped build a relationship.
But there was a lot of cynicism about some other things. Almost everyone mentioned their being introduced to an agency’s senior team during the first few meetings, only to never see them again. This is not really an issue for our business, because we’re a small consultancy. But, for larger agencies, the lesson is clear: don’t put people in front of a client, then take them away later.