B+B Episode 5: Client’s Clients

We came back from the (not) long (enough) Spanish summer with a cracking conversation about people. Humans. All of us. End-users. Clients. Customers, Buyers. Our client’s clients. Following up from our last conversation about Clients, we had an absolute geek-out talking about what makes designers’ work relevant to real people, and what makes people’s point of view relevant to designers. The wine helped, but the conversation is by far one of the most important and most challenging ones till now, that left us with more questions that we started with, but also with a couple of important answers. Do read on.

We couldn’t have found a better person to introduce the topic than Lionel Malka, architect, retail thinker, owner of Metica, and gas stations aficionado. Around the table a small but dedicated squad: The Colossus, Helga, Pablo, and yours truly, hosted this time by the Star Wars infused space at Malka-Portus.

Before we move along, a round-up of this month’s responses. Response that is. As usual, Merlin’s point of view is fresh, insightful, and with a psychology twist. Please check out his post about the agency-client relationship and why “it takes two to tango”.

Lionel is somewhat known for his slightly controversial points of view, and his intro to the topic of customers made no exception, starting with a question that left us puzzled: “Is Donald Trump user-centric?”

  • The design world tends to take itself overly serious at times… and things like user-centricity become a bit of a horse goggles for designers. The danger of obsessing over what users want is extremism in one of its purest forms: populism.
  • Asking users what they want in most other disciplines is usually not a good idea: how to engineer a building, how to fix a broken leg, how to build a car. Why should design be the exception?
  • Interviewing people — asking them what they want — is not a good idea because people always lie, especially about what they think they need or want. [side note, you might want to check this book which brilliantly explains why everybody lies]
  • We, as people, are in a continuous process of user-centric change. Because we want to belong, we keep changing to adapt to what our families want or need from us, what our friends like, and what society wants us to be. We design ourselves in a user-centric manner.
  • Innovation becomes impossible with such a pigeonholed approach. As Steve Jobs famously put it, “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
  • The reason why user-centricity has become so overwhelmingly used in design processes — has to do with our lack of confidence over what we design. But it is a substitution of confidence with false confidence.
  • “El diseñador camarero” (as Cristina coined the term in a following conversation), or the designer-waiter taking the order from its users, brings no real value to the process of design. The real value a designer brings is interpretation, not translation.
  • As Pablo masterfully put it, “Since when has the truth become so important? We’ve never really operated with the truth. We never really want to know the truth.”
  • On the other hand, failing to take into account people or failing to understand them, can lead to unusable design, or design for the sake of design, as cities like Brasilia stand proof for.
  • What people really want — and expect from design — is familiarity. Something to feel comfortable with. Something that makes sense for and fits into their existing lives — and contexts.
  • What has real value today in design is what people are not able to tell me.
  • The only tools that can really provide an answer to user-centricity are Big Data + AI. Have Corbusier had a way of tracking how much time people spend in the bathroom, he would have created the perfect house. Data-centricity is much more valuable than user-centricity.
  • User-centricity is a capitalist ambition, while data-centricity is the real human ambition.
  • More important than giving people what they want is having a real concern for them and their lives, uncovering what is not known, and adopting a context-centric approach. The real job of the designer is to understand the context of their client’s clients, and provide solutions that responde to that context rather than to specific needs of one individual.

And to wrap up this super insightful conversation, here’s one of my favourite quotes of all times, from one of my favourite books — People’s Platform.

“Giving people what they want reduces us to consumers instead of treating us like citizens, consumers who are on the prowl for the predictable and comfortable. What we want is suspiciously like what we’ve already got, and more of the same-the cultural equivalent of a warm bath.”

If these thoughts left you pondering, I’d like to invite you, dear reader, to join the conversation by writing your own answer to the ideas above. Bring in your own brand perspective — of a strategist, a designer, a marketeer, an end-user, a wild card, a lover or a hater. Publish your point of view on your company’s blog, here on Medium, in a tweet, an instagram photo, in a vlog or in whatever format you’re more comfortable with. We’re using #brandandbread to keep track of them.

Brand+Bread is a thought collective asking (and hopefully sometimes also answering) tough questions about the future of branding. It offers the time and space for conversation and knowledge exchange on the issues facing this discipline, hoping to evolve our thinking and practicing of it.

Design Strategist. I analyse stuff and have opinions about it.

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