The User

There’s no such thing as the user, only users, and no two users have exactly the same needs, wants, tastes or ideas about what constitutes the perfect product. A large part of design is making the choice between these potential audiences, picking the people you are going to make the product for and saying no to all the rest.

This is why advice like “listen to the user” is only meaningful in the context of having a specific audience, because in general there is no one user you could be making the product for, and certainly no decision that can please everyone. Indeed, the more specific you are about who you are making the product for, the more people you are likely to displease. People can tell you what they want, but the choice of whose needs you listen to is always up to you, and this is the choice that will have the greatest impact on the direction of your work. The “user” doesn’t make that choice – you do.

Look at the current Chrome experiment of hiding the full URL address. Many people are upset, even angry, that Google is even thinking about burying such an important part of the Web behind an interface element. I’m sure there are also many people who don’t care about it at all, and likely even more who don’t know what the URL even is. One could say that Google is simply making decisions based on the needs of their user base, but this isn’t quite true. The truth is that Google can choose to listen to any one of its users, and ultimately who it chooses to listen to – i.e. what design decision they will take – will be dictated not by some objective algorithm, but by the values of the people working on the project, the values of the developers, designers, managers and leaders. Design isn’t merely a case of researching market demand and implementing a solution to meet it – it is about figuring out what solution you believe is right for the market, and that conception of right involves you as much as it does the market.