Reactive Filter

It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want.

Steve Jobs said this originally, in reference to the way that users are a poor source of quality information about their needs. Most of the time they don’t know what they need, misidentify what they need, or lack the language to articulate either way. If you leave it up to the users to make UX decisions, this happens. It bankrupted the company.

We try to minimize client interference in the design process by synthesizing their explanations and ideas into a creative brief everyone can agree on. But it’s not a very reliable process.

I noticed a pattern of behavior common to clients early on in my career: even if they couldn’t explain exactly what they wanted, they knew what they didn’t want as soon as they saw it. You quickly learn to resist doing high-fidelity work early in any project, because you must first get through the reactive filter: the meeting in which you present work and the client says, “That’s nice, but what I was thinking was…”

Listen carefully to what comes after these words, because most of the time it’ll be worth more than anything in the creative brief. Why? Because it’s much easier to react to a point of reference, even if it’s wrong, than to imagine something from nothing, and the output from that reaction is just as illuminating.

This is not a shortcut to avoiding design thinking – you must still define the problem properly before presenting early, or the reaction to your work, whether positive or negative, won’t yield useful intel.

Entire projects cannot be run this way. Use the reactive filter to establish boundaries early on, then direct the design process from there.