Apr 2012

User-Centered vs. Stakeholder-Centered

An important part of our job as user experience designers is finding a way to meet the client’s business goals. The other part is to simultaneously advocate for users’ needs.

To give a voice to the end-user, we get to know them. We listen to them, watch them in action, and pick through the data they leave behind. At times, we get to know the end-user better than the client does. It’s not that the clients don’t want to know about their users, they just sometimes get out of touch or get caught up in meeting their business needs. Thankfully, we’re good at gently explaining any discrepancies.

To meet the needs of the business stakeholders, we often have to learn the ins and outs of their operation. We learn their market, products, processes, and frustrations to the point that we could be an employee.

Balancing user-centered design with stakeholder-centered clients is one of the trickier things about UX. Compromises sometimes need to happen in order to make a successful project. We may have users make an extra click in order to increase conversion, or stakeholders may need to step back from immediate ROI and think about longer term victories.

I backup my decisions with data and research, so that stakeholders understand and agree. Because the supporting information is there, I rarely get a ton of push-back. When I do, there’s usually a good business-related reason.

I think of the business stakeholders as partners, so I listen to what they have to tell me. But occasionally the push-back is due to personal preference and can be counter-productive to their business objectives and to user-centered design.

In situations like this, there’s a temptation to avoid confrontation and simply give the stakeholders what they want. But the mindset of treating our clients like they’re fragile or unintelligent, ultimately sets us up for failure. Not to mention that it’s very frustrating.

At times like these it’s important to realize that we’ve been hired because, what the client is doing hasn’t been working. Some gentle and respectful, but firm “boat rocking” must be done. I understand that the client will always have the last say, but we should never placate them for the sake keeping them quiet.

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