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I gave you everything you ever wanted; it wasn’t what you wanted

By Gareth Dunlop
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I gave you everything you ever wanted; it wasn’t what you wanted

The classic criticism levelled at consultants of many hues is that they ask for your watch then tell you the time. They are notorious for asking lots of questions and reporting back with little more than a glorified transcription in a 50–page report, 40 pages of which are part of an off–the–shelf template.

This same criticism, viewed through the lens of the consultant rather than the customer is that consultants are under constant pressure to give those who have commissioned them the exact outcome they desire and so generally need to start any engagement by earning the right to provide a challenge function, so essential if genuine value is to be added. At the risk of over–generalising, this right is earned by assuring the client of two important things.

1. The consultant has invested substantial time and has adequate intellectual capacity to comprehensively understand their business needs and the problem they have been engaged to solve.

2. The consultant has a strong grasp of their own specialism, through a mixture of commitment to the theory, experience over many years and the application of the theory to the problem at hand.

Yet still consultants and agencies can come under pressure not just to solve problems for customers, but to solve those problems exactly the way the customer wants. This is a challenge across many disciplines but is particularly acute in the world of user–experience.

The problems which UX design typically helps solve are to sell more, improve efficiency, cut costs, enhance marketplace position, increase customer satisfaction, ward off competitive threat and build brand. And perhaps counter–intuitively this is most–commonly achieved not by seeking to control the customer more but rather by letting the customer control the experience.

For example, it’s not uncommon that conversion ratios are improved for e–commerce providers when they talk less about themselves not more. Frequent studies inform us that design trends which remain popular, such as use of the hamburger menu and parallex–led long home pages, frequently under–perform against a range of heuristic criteria. We know from years of research that the “hero shot” decreases user trust and propensity to buy, it doesn’t increase it.

Hero shots include transport companies boasting about the size of their fleet (users are usually happy to take on trust that the company will have a bus to take them to their destination), universities putting shiny pictures of their buildings on the home page (it turns out that users are prepared to take the step of faith that the university will have rooms in which to conduct the lectures), and (my own bête–noire) the large organisation which leads on its home page with a “web version” of their TV ad or billboard (in all my years involved in digital I have never been involved in a single project where the replay of a TV ad registered over half of one percent of home page activity).

At the time of writing, far too many such Irish websites remain live.

Rather, users value a range of things which too many comms professionals find too dull. Invite a group of people to a meeting to talk about brand and visual aesthetic and you’ll fill the room. And so you should – these are important considerations. Yet try to pull together a group to talk about findability, task–completion efficiency, navigation speed, or internal site search you’ll discover that no amount of strong coffee or sticky donuts will persuade people to come along.

To our loyal clients and those who one day might become customers, I assure you of the Fathom team’s commitment to credible challenge function.

In return, I ask you to accede to the paradox that if we simply gave you everything you ever wanted, it wouldn’t be what you wanted.

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