The mythology is that “the user is king… Companies must become user-centric. But there’s a problem: It doesn’t work. Here’s the truth: Great brands lead users, not the other way around.”
Citing the example of Apple [AAPL], they quote the Apple design team who say: “It’s all bullshit and hot air created to sell consulting projects and to give insecure managers a false sense of security. At Apple, we don’t waste our time asking users, we build our brand through creating great products we believe people will love.”
Equally, they cite IKEA designers who “don’t use user studies or user insights to create their products. When I asked them why, they said ‘We tried and it didn’t work.’”
Instead, the best brands delight their customers because they are “guided by a clear vision for the world, a unique set of values, and a culture that makes them truly unique and that no user insights could ever change.”
They give four reasons why it’s harmful to follow slavishly what users say:
- Users insights can’t predict future demand. The users themselves often have no idea if they will like an breakthrough product before they start using it.
- User-centered processes stifles creativity: “The user-centered process is created as linear rational process for innovation and that’s why it’s so popular among managers… creating something new is a chaotic, unpredictable, frustrating, and very, very hard process. And most of all, it’s the result of extraordinary efforts and visions of a few extremely talented people.”
- User focus makes companies miss out on disruptive innovations: “Focusing on users will lead companies to make incremental innovations that typically tend to make the products more expensive and complicated and ironically, in the long run, less competitive.”
- User-led design leads to sameness: “Even if user insights were useful, it isn’t a competitive advantage. Even the most advanced users studies are now widely available.”
In short, user-based design will result in average products, that might satisfy users, but will not delight them. The extra spark has to come from a combination of deep understanding of the users and the inspiration and creativity of a small team that can figure out what would make a real difference.
One caveat that should be added: one needs to be careful not to interpret this to mean that designers don’t need to pay attention to users. On the contrary. They need to have a deep understanding of users, an understanding that goes beyond what the users themselves can say, because it combines an understanding of the hopes, dreams, irritations and fears of the users with what the designers can contribute to promote those hopes and dreams or avert those irritations and fears.
Read the article here.
To learn more
To learn more about delighting clients, read my article, Delighting clients or books such as The New Capitalist Manifesto by Umair Haque, The Power of Pull by John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison, Reorganize for Resilience by Ranjay Gulati, or Leadership in a Wiki World by Rod Collins,
For a comprehensive review of the principles and practices involved in delighting clients, read my book, The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century (Jossey-Bass, 2010).