Why don’t we talk to users?

June 28, 2019

Have you ever been in a meeting with a stakeholder and you or someone else suggests interviewing users or looking at user feedback in order to guide the roadmap and been shot down? I have. I’ve often wondered what causes large group meetings to end in the highest-paid person in the room’s opinion being agreed with universally. Sprint after sprint we tend to work on sets of features that have more to do with what stakeholders personally want to progress their own career than what might actually be best for the product’s users.

I’m not saying this is all teams on all products but I would be surprised if you’ve never experienced this before. I’ve got a couple of thoughts on why this might be and some thoughts on what we as production consultants might be able to do about it.

The main reason I think this happens has to do with pride. The people in that meeting room were chosen to lead this project for a reason. Either they care the most about the product, an executive likes them and has put them in charge, or they personally think they are best qualified to guide that project to success. It has to be insanely difficult in those positions to admit that you might not know the answer. That you might need to consult user feedback or conduct a UX research session to discover what is best for your users.

I would argue that this leads to catastrophic results. Just because you’re being paid a lot of money to lead a project doesn’t mean you need to come up with all the answers and I’ve literally seen these people ignore user feedback in favor of completing features at the request of their bosses.

So what can we do about it? I think the best thing to do is set proper expectations at the onset of a project with the client. There is a great quote I like to reference from designer Mike Monteiro :

“You may be hiring us, and that may be your name on the check, but we do not work for you. We’re coming in to solve a problem, because we believe it needs to be solved, and it’s worth solving. But we work for the people being affected by that problem. Our job is to look out for them because they’re not in the room. And we will under no circumstances design anything that puts those people at risk.” [1]

As a builder of the web, we should always be thinking about our users first. They are the ones who make a product successful or not. Focusing on what the HIPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) will only work out for so long.

If you’re already in the position I described above, the best we can do is try to remind stakeholders what the purpose of us building this app is. Ask the question, “How will this benefit the users?” as often as you can and maybe, we can make the internet a better place.


Written by Matt Gregg, a UI engineer who lives and works in Minneapolis, MN

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