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It doesn’t matter what I think about your website

It doesn’t matter what I think about your website

Overall, the lot of the professional services salesperson is a good one.  As such an individual it is my great privilege to meet lots of interesting people, learn about the various business and commercial challenges they face and consider in detail how user–experience thinking and planning can help them do better business, serve customers more efficiently and improve their top and bottom lines.

This line of work allows me to indulge in many of my favourite things including talking tech, drinking coffee and meeting new people.

Inheriting or owning an underperforming, or simply non–performing website is a challenge which many of Fathom’s new customers are facing when they get in touch with us for the first time.  And so it’s common that after venting about the disappointment they feel in their own website, prospects will ask “So what do you think of our site?  You can be honest!” as they sit back and munch on their popcorn, waiting for the UX guy to give the site a well deserved shoeing.

Before I share how I answer the question, indulge me if you will in a moment of introspection.  Too often I am a fence–sitter, keeping my opinions to myself either to keep myself out of trouble, or because I don’t feel well informed enough to proffer an opinion.  Better to close one’s mouth and have people consider you a fool than open it and prove it, and all that.

So when I am invited to answer the question by someone who I have spent some time convincing of Fathom’s bona fides, I feel the pressure of an expectant prospect eager to hear me prove my worth in the real world and an inner voice prompting me to get off the fence and have the courage of my convictions.

And yet I resist.

And what’s more I am right to resist.

Because it doesn’t matter what I think about your website.  Sure, I represent a leading user–experience agency, however the opinion which must dominate any UX design project is that of the user.  Few projects benefit from yet more opinions from yet more experts.

I am not the user.

Write 100 times.

I am not the user.

In practical terms what this means is that the design trends and patterns I like, the language and nomenclature with which I am comfortable, the hardware quality and Internet access speed I enjoy, the level of Internet expertise I have, and my socio–economic demographics are highly unlikely to match those of the target user and as I haven’t put myself in their shoes it is simply not my place to comment on their behalf.

Of course as an experience–design professional I should have an informed opinion on design choices versus best practice, I ought to be able to proffer comment on implementation against known usability studies, but once again those utterances must be founded on statistics from users and not conjecture from my tastes.

The loudest voice on every web project should be the voice of the user and this voice must be sought using the myriad of research and workshop methodologies which have been pioneered by experience designers over the past five decades, honed by the early web pioneers and now available to all who desire to build commercially successful websites and apps.

So the answer to the question “So what do you think of our site?” must always be “I don’t know but I know a man who does!”

And if this particular professional services salesman manages to close the deal, he and his team spend the majority of their time understanding and listening to the man (or woman) who does and then (and only then) answering the question.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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