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Dealing with Clients Who Focus on Only One Aspect of a UX Design

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A column by Janet M. Six
April 20, 2020

This month in Ask UXmatters, UX professionals on our panel of experts discuss how to deal with clients who want to focus on just one aspect of a UX design.

In some situations, clients might be able to expand their focus if they can understand how other aspects of a design would impact the product and its profitability. For example, for some clients, findings from user research and product-usability testing might be undeniable once they see them. They can cause clients to see designs in a new light.

In other situations, clients are simply incapable of expanding their focus—no matter what the data shows. In such cases, as UX designers, we must either accept that reality or decide not to work with that client anymore.

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Every month in my column Ask UXmatters, our panel of UX experts answers readers’ questions about a broad range of user experience matters. To get answers to your own questions about UX strategy, design, user research, or any other topic of interest to UX professionals in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your questions to: [email protected].

The following experts have contributed answers to this month’s edition of Ask UXmatters:

  • Carol Barnum—Director of User Research and Founding Partner at UX Firm; author of Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set … Test!
  • Caroline Jarrett—Owner and Director at Effortmark Limited; UXmatters columnist
  • Janet M. Six—Product Manager at Tom Sawyer Software; UXmatters Managing Editor and columnist

Q: How do you deal with a client who wants to focus on only one aspect of your UX design solution?—from a Ask UXmatters reader

“The short answer: Enthusiastically embrace their desire to focus on User Experience at all,” replies Caroline. “The longer version: For many years, I believed that it was my duty as a UX professional to train my clients to embrace the whole of User Experience and see things my way. Eventually, I came to realize that as UX professionals, we need to work hard on the user experience of User Experience. One of the things I had to learn was that, if a client has a clear vision of what they want or believe they want from their UX efforts, the least I can do is respect their views.

“That doesn’t mean I would confine myself entirely to giving them only what they want. I try to have a yes, and mentality—although the actual way in which I’d express that view would obviously depend on the circumstances. For example:

  1. Yes, let’s definitely find out which color your customers would prefer. And while we’re doing that, would you mind if I took down a few notes about whether they’ll consider using your product?
  2. Yes, of course, we can learn about that aspect of your service by doing a survey. And as preparation for that, let’s follow survey-methodology best practices and do a couple of interviews on the survey topics first.
  3. Yes, I’d be delighted to set up a usability test for that new feature. And would you remind me whether people can use that feature separately from everything else?

“When a client simply doesn’t want to follow the yes, and approach, I’m trying hard to learn not to push it. Maybe if they find out what they want to find out about today, they’ll consider a wider focus tomorrow. Maybe they won’t. At which point, I gently remind myself that every consultant needs to reread Jared Spool’s ‘Beans and Noses’ every now and then.”

Support and Expand on Your Client’s Goals

“If you cannot persuade your client to design for the totality of the user’s experience, you can support the client’s goal of focusing on just one aspect of a UX design by providing the appropriate types of UX research,” replies Carol. “You can help your client understand the user’s experience with a particular aspect of the design. This situation might occur when the client is designing a new feature for an existing product, and the client is focusing on how well the target users are receiving the new feature.

“Two possible scenarios come to mind that would allow you to offer your findings and recommendations that are outside the narrow scope of the client’s interest.

“In one scenario, you might find that users must engage with other aspects of the product to be able to work with the new feature. Or you might find that users mistakenly use other aspects of the user interface because they don’t understand how to engage with the new feature. For example, in the first case, users might need to log in to access the new feature. In the second case, users might think that they need to return to the home screen or go to another part of the product to perform certain tasks—even though you’ve designed the new feature in a way that ensures the user can remain within the user interface for that feature. Depending on where users go and what they do that takes them beyond the specific aspect of a design that is the focus of your research, you might be able to broaden your findings beyond the narrow scope of the new feature.

“In another scenario, your research on a particular aspect of the design is likely to uncover two types of findings:

  1. Local findings—which are specific to the particular aspect of the design you’re studying
  2. Global findings—which might relate to the overall interface design, terminology, navigation, images or icons, or the user’s mental model of how the user-interface design should function.

“You can then report the findings of immediate interest to your client, as well as the larger issues you’ve uncovered about the product’s user-interface design.

“By providing evidence of other issues that need further research, you might be able to make a convincing case to expand the scope of your user research beyond the single aspect of the design that the client thought was all you needed to study.”

Business Concerns

Sometimes a client’s focus on a particular aspect of a UX design is not about the product at all, but the client’s perception of the market. Maybe the client is focusing on a particular aspect of the product because they strongly believe that another company is successful because they’ve focused on that. In such cases, it can be useful to more strongly connect different aspects of a UX design solution to particular benefits in the marketplace. 

Product Manager at Tom Sawyer Software

Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Janet M. SixDr. Janet M. Six helps companies design easier-to-use products within their financial, time, and technical constraints. For her research in information visualization, Janet was awarded the University of Texas at Dallas Jonsson School of Engineering Computer Science Dissertation of the Year Award. She was also awarded the prestigious IEEE Dallas Section 2003 Outstanding Young Engineer Award. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications and the Kluwer International Series in Engineering and Computer Science. The proceedings of conferences on Graph Drawing, Information Visualization, and Algorithm Engineering and Experiments have also included the results of her research. Janet is the Managing Editor of UXmatters.  Read More

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