Business Objectives vs. User Experience

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Here’s a question for you: would you agree that creating a great user experience should be the primary aim of any Web designer? I know what your answer is… and youʼre wrong!

Okay, I admit that not all of you would have answered yes, but most probably did. Somehow, the majority of Web designers have come to believe that creating a great user experience is an end in itself. I think we are deceiving ourselves and doing a disservice to our clients at the same time.

The truth is that business objectives should trump users’ needs every time. Generating a return on investment is more important for a website than keeping users happy. Sounds horrendous, doesn’t it? Before you flame me in the comments, hear me out.

The Harsh Reality

Letʼs begin with the harsh truth. If an organization does not believe that it will generate some form of a return on an investment (financial or otherwise), then it should not have a website. In other words, if the website doesn’t pay its way, then we have not done our jobs properly.

Despite what we might think, our primary aim is to fulfill the business objectives set out by our clients. Remember that creating a great user experience is a means to this end. We do not create great user experiences just to make users happy. We do so because we want them to look favorably on the website and take certain actions that will generate the returns that our clients want.

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Is the business world at odds with creativity? Image by opensourceway2

User Experience Is Important

Let me be clear. Iʼm not suggesting that user experience is unimportant. In fact, I believe that creating an amazing experience is the primary means of helping a website fulfill its business objectives. A well-designed website makes it easy for users to complete the calls to action we have created.

Happy users also provide many other benefits. They can become advocates for your website. A happy user is considerably more likely to recommend your services and is more patient when things occasionally go wrong. Enthusiastic users can also become valuable volunteers; they have innumerable ideas about how your website and products can be improved. They are far more valuable than any focus group!

The point, though, is that happy users generate a return on investment, so spending the time and effort to give them a great experience is worth it.

When Business Objectives and User Experience Clash

You may argue that this is all semantics and that business objectives and user experience actually go hand in hand. Generally, I agree, but there are occasions when the two clash, and at these times we need to be clear that generating a return on investment should trump user experience.

Let me give you an example. We Web designers often complain when clients ask us to add fields to their online forms because they want to collect certain demographic information about their users. We argue, rightly, that this annoys users and damages the user experience. But we need to ask ourselves whether those additional fields would make users not complete the forms at all—as we fear—or would just slightly irritate them. If users ultimately complete the form and the company is able to gather valuable demographic information, then the slight irritation may be worthwhile.

Do You Have The Right Balance?

Iʼm a little nervous about this post because I realize that many people could misinterpret what Iʼm saying. But I passionately believe that the Web design community is in danger of becoming blind to all else but user experience. Iʼm convinced we need to spend as much time and effort on understanding and achieving business objectives as we do on creating a great experience.

I’ll end with this: during your last project, how much time did you spend creating personas, testing usability and generally improving the user experience? How does that compare with the amount of time you spent learning about the client’s business objectives and creating great calls to action?

Ask yourself whether you got the balance right.

(al) (ik)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.flickr.com/photos/47691521@N07/4639590640/
  2. 2 http://www.flickr.com/photos/47691521@N07/4639590640/

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Paul Boag is the author of Digital Adaptation and a leader in digital strategy with over 20 years experience. Through consultancy, speaking, writing, training and mentoring he passionately promotes digital best practice.

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  1. 1

    so in the end it comes down to “client experience”?

    -1
  2. 102

    As long as the business objective are actually being met, does the UX really matter?

    There’s a noted difference from a one-off sale, and a viable business with RETURNING CUSTOMERS.

    Make sure that the premature needs of the client are met, but ensure that your expertise is being followed through to guarantee a profitable and SUSTAINABLE business model continues.

    -3
  3. 203

    boring boring boring

    who cares

    just make it pretty

    -4
  4. 304

    god literally the most dull article on the web

    what utter bullshit, business, clients, UX

    UX???? UX???? abbreviating User Experience to UX?????

    what kind of up your own arse, lackadaisical nonsense is this

    honest get out more ,

    get a life that doesn’t revolve around staring at pixels all day

    -4
  5. 506

    Agree this article is weak

    0
  6. 607

    yep UX dropped the ball, shame

    0
  7. 708

    “But we need to ask ourselves whether those additional fields would make users not complete the forms at all—as we fear—or would just slightly irritate them. If users ultimately complete the form and the company is able to gather valuable demographic information, then the slight irritation may be worthwhile.”

    I’m an independent software developer. I make a lot of money doing what I do, and so do the companies that benefit from my advice and skills. People like you are the main reason I won’t work with UX Designers, Business Analysts or Marketing “Gurus”. And whilst I’ve been party to many, many software developments projects that avoided wasting money on each of the above pointless roles, I’ve yet to see one that didn’t need developers like me (that know how technology works, and who moreover know that *not* annoying users is of primary, overriding importance, whatever some misguided wannabe marketing guru with a grossly over-inflated ego might prefer to believe).

    People like you are, and let’s be fair to you, completely delusional. You have no idea how badly your ideas come across to users and technical professionals alike. As evidenced by the fact that you honestly believe there is an acceptable amount of intentional irritation you can inflict on potential customers and you get away with it. Do yourself a favour, chump, and go and get a job selling marketing courses to gullible small companies, perhaps advising them how upselling can increase their profits “just like McDonalds did with their do you want fries with that approach”. Because making business use of technology clearly isn’t your forte.

    -3
  8. 809

    An example from operating systems would be when they ask the user “can we collect anonymous data”. Those screens annoy me just a little, but e.g. Apple has chosen to irritate people just a little to get valuable data from users.

    0
  9. 910

    Excellent post, I agree with your point of view, since I came across such a situation, at first when the client disputes the user experience you’ve designed, generates a certain frustration, but trying to understand the “business” and its objectives can be flexible and balance the situation.

    0

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