“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
I have always thought baby mobiles are designed backwards. Let’s say, for example, we have a very cute and pleasant one with colorful wooden cutouts of bunnies.
To the adult who installed it, this looks perfect as it hangs over the crib. But to the baby (the party this product is supposed to be designed for) it projects a much less interesting visual:
The parent feels they’re providing something enjoyable to the baby, but objective observation indicates otherwise.
There seems to be a tension here: its purpose is to entertain babies, but it’s positioned to appeal to adults. While having the bunnies face the cognizant, wallet-wielding side of the equation may be the more marketable decision, the baby’s experience is no doubt the poorer for it. In fact, in this particular case their enjoyment of looking at the bunnies is at the direct expense of their child’s ability to do so. The parent feels they’re providing something enjoyable to the baby, but objective observation indicates otherwise.
This tension is no different in the web world than it is in the product world – clients (those with the money) want to receive a website that they like, assuming that that feeling will be mutual amongst their customers (those experiencing it). If we turn the dial too far towards the client, though, we risk providing a spectacular but irrelevant product – a virtual “yes man” of a website, comforting them but not serving their best interests.
In my mind, this is the essential crux of user-centered design: identifying the tradeoffs of catering to either the client or the customer, and presenting suggestions for how both parties may best be served.
When in doubt, it seems like the best option is to side with the people actually using it.
When in doubt, it seems like the best option is to side with the people actually using it – not only are they the ones it’s presumably supposed to be designed for, but their perspective is also likely to be the least-represented throughout the design phase. Moreover, by serving the customer we in fact serve both parties simultaneously: the website is only valuable to the client if it’s creating a real-world effect in behavior, and that can’t happen if it doesn’t resonate with its audience.
You would be hard-pressed to find a parent who would sign off on an instruction like “make this baby toy less interesting to my daughter and more interesting to me”, and yet examples abound, particularly online. The hope of user-centered design is to remind us of our higher ambitions, and remember which way the bunnies should be facing.