User Experience

The User is Always Right? Wrong!

Published August 25, 2015 ⚡ Updated on October 2, 2023 by Stefan Rössler

As someone who might be called usability expert I’ve often referred to the old saying that the user is always right. As an interface designer on the other hand, I can’t agree with this statement at all.

Users click on all the wrong things, avoid clicking on the things you want them to, and simply don’t use the design in the way you intended it to be used. They almost do everything wrong! Believe me, I’m a user myself and I’m screwing up on a daily basis.

Users almost do everything wrong. Source: The Hipper Element

Users are awkward people. They are so obsessed with their own goals (even if it’s just wasting their time) that they don’t give a damn about us. We, the designers, developers and experts are irrelevant to them. These user guys don’t honour our efforts in any way. They don’t care about our designs as much as we do. They simply see them as a mean to and end. Ignorant bastards…

I stop joking now. Of course users are not ignorant. They are just people and as people they expect our designs to solve a problem or improve their lives in any other way. That’s…right somehow, isn’t it?

What’s wrong is what we, the designers, developers and experts often do. We show our work to people and ask them for feedback and expect to magically end up with a great user experience. But no, we won’t.

“Feedback is terrible.”
—Steve Krug

We often design mockups and build prototypes for different kinds of user interfaces. We share them inside the team and click through to get a better understanding of the product. Maybe we’re also actively asking for feedback and iterate our designs based on it. Yet there’s one thing – the most important thing – that we don’t do as much as we should. Testing with real people. Well, some companies do. Those are the guys who deliver all the products and services we love so much – Google Search, YouTube, Facebook and all the other great web sites and apps that exist these days. Those services have raised the bar and it’s not sustainable anymore to produce mediocre products. And that’s why we need to change the way we work. How? By changing the way we think about it.

We must stop taking our designs personal. We must become objective – at least as much as possible. If all we do is talk about our designs and debate with colleagues, we’ll end up being so obsessed about the discussion itself that we can’t be good judges anymore. But good design demands good judgement.

There are so many decisions to be made when you set out to design a great product. It’s impossible to build on the belief that our users are always right and that we should listen to them. Because if we do, we’re like a wheel in the sky that may keeps on turning but also changes direction based on the opinions of other people. People who don’t care about us and our designs. And that’s a dangerous thing to do.

What we need to do instead, is to observe. We want to watch people using our designs. We don’t need their opinions, they’re biased anyway. We want to see what they do and we want to know, what they are thinking while they’re doing it, so we can understand why they are doing it. And it’s this understanding of users which is always right – not the users themselves.

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