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Talk to your target customer and start by asking them how your design makes them feel

We have noticed a distinct trend with our clients, business partners, and colleagues; while many of them talk the talk of a design approach centered on customer requirements, most skip the step of asking their customers, taking the path of “I already know” and “if we build it, it will be awesome, and they will come.” If IBM’s move to a Design Centered Strategy is any indication of the popularity of a design-centric approach, then why are so many businesses from startups to public companies paying lip service to design first, but not actually doing it?

This position is not without some justification; customers willing to talk with you are likely to be more amenable to your offering and provide you with a “warm fuzzy” response to any product that you show them. While participating in an alpha testing program for Tamr Catalog, their UX designer didn’t just ask about functionality. In fact, their first question about a prototype was, “How does this make you feel?”.

It truly altered the way I was thinking about the design I was looking at. Instead of focusing on does it have feature a or b, I was now thinking about how the design felt a little cold and “all business,” I was confused about what unlabeled icons meant, and I wasn’t sure what to do first.

And all of this happened in a few short Google video chats, each less than 30 minutes. While they did ask about my requirements, they did so within a lean, design-centric framework, also asking indirect questions to help uncover true pain points.

Don’t be constrained by your existing business model, naysayers that refuse to acknowledge the value of early customer feedback, or doing just good enough.  Talk to your target customers to understand the key features that they want.