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Nine Myths of Customer-Centered Design

Why do so many organizations not embrace customer-centered design? We are here to dispel the myths that keep companies from moving forward with customer-centered design.

Myth 1: Good Design Is Just Common Sense · If Web site design is just common sense, why are there so many bad Web sites? Thinking that design is just common sense leads us to think that we know what everyone needs and wants. Time and time again, however, this notion has been shown to be incorrect.

Web design teams always have to keep in mind that they are not the customers. They cannot always predict the way customers will think or act. In addition, they know too much about how the Web site works. They cannot look at it in the same way that customers will. They could avoid this problem by observing and talking to customers and getting feedback from them as often as possible.

Myth 2: Only Experts Create Good Designs · Although experts might apply customer-centered design techniques more quickly or conduct more rigorous analyses, anyone can understand and use these techniques. Anyone can create a good design if they devote themselves to it.

Myth 3: Web Interfaces Can Be Redesigned Right before Launch · Sentiments like "we'll spend a few days working on our site's interface" or "we'll solve the interface problems after all the programming is done" are common. However, these ideas assume that the Web site has the right features and that those features are being built correctly. These are two very risky assumptions that can be costly to fix, especially if the Web site is near completion. Customer-centered design helps minimize these risks by getting constant feedback on designs so that the Web site will be in good condition the day it is launched.

Myth 4: Good Design Takes Too Long and Costs Too Much · Customer-centered design does add some up-front costs because you will be talking to customers, creating prototypes, getting feedback on those prototypes, and so on. However, customer-centered design can considerably reduce back-end costs—that is, costs incurred as a result of responding to customer dissatisfaction, through help desk calls, returned purchases, general Web site maintenance, and so on. Evaluate the trade-off between spending more time and money at the start of your project and losing revenue over the long run.

Customer-centered design can even reduce the total development time and cost because it focuses on finding problems in the early stages of design when they are still easy to repair, preventing them from ever causing serious problems that are time-consuming and expensive to fix. We know that your team will not always have the time and budget to do everything possible, so we try to lay out the trade-offs among the different actions you could take to improve your site. This book discusses many effective approaches you can use to test your assumptions and to test your Web site, to make sure that it is a winner in the long run.

Myth 5: Good Design Is Just Cool Graphics ·An aesthetically pleasing design is an important part of any Web site because it helps communicate how to use a particular interface and it conveys a certain impression. However, graphics are only one part of the larger picture of what to communicate and how. Customer-centered design takes into account what customers want, what they understand, what tasks they perform, and the context in which they do things. Cool graphics by themselves do not address these issues.

Myth 6: Web Interface Guidelines Will Guide You to Good Designs · Web interface guidelines are a good checklist to ensure that the final design has no obvious minor problems. Guidelines address only how a Web site is implemented, however. They do not address what features a Web site should have, the overall organization of the Web site, or the flow between individual Web pages. In contrast, the design patterns described in this book are generative. Using them will help you create solutions to your design problems. Furthermore, guidelines do not address the trade-offs of Web site development. Customer-centered principles, processes, and patterns, on the other hand, do take these issues into account.

Myth 7: Customers Can Always Rely on Documentation and Help · Documentation and help are important; however, customers are unlikely to be patient enough to sift through a great deal of documentation just to use a Web site. Documentation and help are the last resorts of a frustrated customer.

Think about it this way: When was the last time you read a help page? Did you wish the design team had gone the extra mile in the first place to make using the site straightforward so that you would not need to read the help? Customer-centered design provides tools to see the world from your customers' eyes, to help you understand their worldview, and then to design Web sites to fit their needs.

Myth 8: Market Research Takes Care of Understanding All Customer Needs · Although market research is invaluable for helping to understand customer attitudes and intentions, it does not suffice when it comes to understanding customer behavior. Be careful also about using market research to create lists of customer feature requests. Implementing a laundry list of new features might satisfy customers who have asked for a particular feature, but all these features are more likely to get in the way of offering most of your customers a successful customer experience.

What customers say in a market research study can be useful as well, but when it comes to interfaces, what they do is critical. That's why market research must be balanced with direct observation. A customer-centered design team uses a variety of techniques—from observations to interviews—to elicit true customer needs and focus on the areas that will be most important for most customers.

Myth 9: Quality Assurance Groups Make Sure That Web Sites Work Well · Software testing is key to ensuring that you are not launching a buggy, poorly performing site. Although quality assurance is important, its purpose and focus are different from those of customer-centered design. Software testing is often technology driven rather than customer driven. Expert testers try to make sure the product does what the specification says it should. This is different from seeing what happens with real customers working on real problems.

More importantly, Web sites often are tested only after being built. At that point it is too late to make major changes. Software testing can help you find and fix only coding mistakes, not major design mistakes. Customer-centered design, in contrast, focuses on quality from the very start—before anyone has written a line of code.

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