Invest in Customer Research: Defending Your Customer’s Design Miranda Rights

Dmytro Kovalenko
May 4, 2018 · 8 min read

May 4, 2018 Design

Original image by Zac Ong. Edited by DK

As designers, we all know that gathering regular and early customer feedback is crucial to building an impactful user experience, so the products we’re making perform as expected and even beyond. However, decision makers often put product success at risk by blocking our attempts to interact with customers.

In this article we will point out the most common objections that stakeholders and decision makers have against investing in customer feedback. We will prove that those objections are actually false and provide ideas and strategies to get decision makers on board with customer feedback.

The Law

Good design is possible only when the team invests in user research and customer feedback for every aspect of the product, regardless of what stage the product is in. The reason behind this is simple — users will love, use, and pay for the product if it will help them solve their real problems. But, as designers we will never know what those problems are without asking real users about them. So essentially — customer feedback is an integral part of design itself.

“Good design is good business.”

That’s a law! Like every law, it has to be backed up and protected.

So let me be a “Design Police Department Officer” here 😉 and provide evidence in favor of customer feedback.

According to IBM, “Good design is good business” — 1973 lecture at the University of Pennsylvania, Watson Jr., IBM


One of the most common reasons stakeholders don’t invest in customer feedback is because they think it’s a waste of money. Every good businessman knows that saving money is like earning money, because you can invest that saved money into making more money. Money is oxygen.

However, if you don’t invest in customer feedback early on, you will actually lose money. Tom Glib wrote in his seminal book Principles of Software Engineering Management that usability problems become exponentially more expensive to fix after a product goes to development.

$1 spent to resolve a problem during product design equals
$10 spent on the same problem during development, and more than
$100 if the problem had to be solved after the product’s release.


So waiting until a design is built to test whether it’s useful at all will actually end up costing more money.

Software Engineering: A Practitioner’s Approach, Robert pressman IBM, 2001

Principles of Software Engineering Management, 1988


The second most common reason decision makers skip gathering customer feedback is because they think it is a waste of time. “Products need to be shipped ASAP,” or “Our competitors are breathing down our necks,” they say. Whatever the reason, there’s a common misconception that user research takes too much time.

But it takes much longer to code the product than design and user-test a quick prototype. Waiting to solve product problems until after development not only costs 10–100 times as much, but it also takes 10–100 times as long. In my experience, a team of two or three designers can recruit participants, assemble an interactive prototype, and do a usability test or customer interviews in just a few days.

Remember, you may spend a week or two user testing and finding important problems or evaluating assumptions, but you’ll save months of coding and will ship products/features much faster in the long run.

And moreover, you can save even more time by getting early customer feedback through methodologies like generative research, that produce an answer faster than guessing and testing over multiple iterations.

Customers don’t know what they want

Another misconception is that customers don’t know what they want, so asking them what they want is useless. To back up this argument decision makers will inevitably bring up these misattributed quotes:

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. — Henry Ford.

A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. — Steve Jobs.

However, user research is not about asking customers what they want. It’s about truly understanding their problems, so you, as the innovator, can solve those problems. It’s about making sure your company doesn’t build something nobody wants.

People may not know what they want, but they definitely know what they don’t want (aka the problem)

So it’s not about whether you should ask questions. It’s about what you ask.

For example:
Instead of asking “What do you want?” try asking something like “What is frustrating about your current experience?” This way you’ll discover problems you can solve to bring real value to your users.

This doesn’t mean customers won’t try to tell you what they want, but a good researcher distills those comments down to find the root issue behind the customer’s ask.

Tough recruiting participants

The challenge of finding research participants can be daunting. Some companies don’t even try. Other companies give it a go, then fail and give up.

Yes, recruiting participants can be difficult in some cases. But it’s not an insurmountable challenge. Here are some ways to improve your response rate:

Copying the best

Another argument that sounds right is: “We don’t need to usability test. We’re using design patterns used by [Google, Facebook, Apple, etc]. They already tested the design patterns.”

Well-established companies often invest in design to buildwell tested design patterns that may become the best practice. And even though those patterns may work, they may also completely break your design. This is because you or your users may use these patterns in a different context.

There’s nothing like hearing a designer say “Well, I guess Google isn’t always right” after watching a user continuously struggle with a Google sanctioned design pattern (true story).

Context matters

Examining a prevailing pattern may be a good place to start — but it’s not the end-all of design. Context and user validation matter.

All-Star designers

Sometimes stakeholders state that their designers are good enough to get the design right the first time. We hate to admit it, but no designer is this good. And that’s ok. The main reason for that is — designers are often not the end users.

Let’s say your company is building specialized software for physicians to manage their work. If your designers are not working part-time as physicians, they will never have enough insight without talking to actual doctors.

Designers are not the end users

If you observe a real customer using your product, they may reveal an issue no one thought of 100% of the time. Observing and collecting customer feedback can show opportunities for improvement and help the whole team build empathy for their customers.

The Boss is waiting

Sometimes decision makers “just need something sexy to show the board.” But in reality, board members want to know that customers will spend money on the product, not that it’s pretty. Instead, a two-minute highlight video of actual customers using and loving your product will impress and reassure your board much more than sexy mockups.

Customers are expected to use and pay

Plus, visual design is notoriously subjective. Relying on sexy designs as your main selling point can be a recipe for disaster. If your product doesn’t solve a meaningful problem for your buyer and user, count on losing their business when it’s time for renewal.

Moreover, bringing back users who previously abandoned your product is much more difficult than acquiring new ones, so it’s worth doing it right the first time.

Ruining sales

There’s still trepidation from sales people over user research, because of their perception it will negatively impact future sales. It happens mostly because in heads of most people sale happens when you convince potential customer to buy your product/service by talking to that customer.

However, successful companies prove that sale more likely will happen when you listen more than talk. And when you’re listening to your customers — you’re doing research.

“How to start a startup” by YC at Stanford University


Many decision makers believe their ideas are good enough and don’t require validation. Some stakeholders will also favor their own ideas over other’s. But honestly, this approach couldn’t be successful at all, unless you’re making products just for fun.

Users are unbiased about who on the product team came up with an idea, and their feedback will clearly show whose ideas are really valuable and solve their problems.

Users don’t care whose idea it is, as long as it solves their problem

Dealing with egotistical stakeholders can be a tough challenge, but it’s still manageable and you have to get creative here.

For example:
Connect customer feedback to your stakeholders’ most important metric. That may be connecting the profit of the company to how customer feedback can increase it. Try to insinuate potential product opportunities in relation to that metric and what needs to be done to get there (Hint: customer feedback), but let them come up with and own the idea of getting customer feedback on a regular basis.

Closing the case

The goal of arguments is not victory, but progress. Regardless of objections keep in mind that user research done by any means dramatically improves the experience of your users, and eventually your business. Also, your own work will become more meaningful when you build products your users love.

Sometimes decision makers still won’t move forward with customer feedback, no matter how clever your arguments. It may be they need to actually see the benefits before committing to customer research. So, don’t wait around for their approval — put in the extra effort to interview at least one customer or run a usability test on your own time. It really doesn’t take that much time to start seeing benefits.

If you have successful (or not) experience convincing decision makers to do customer research, or other thoughts about this challenge, please share them in the comments below this article. We’d love to talk about how to collectively improve this process for the benefit of all designers.

Design Miranda Warning ⚠️

You have the right to speak. Anything you say can and will be used to your advantage in our designs. You have the right to participate in research. If you cannot articulate exactly what you want, we will figure it out anyway. With these rights in mind, are you still willing to remain silent about your current experience?

Stay safe with your product creation and don’t break design law.
DK, Design Police Department Officer 👮‍😉

Originally published at on May 4, 2018.

Modus Create: UX & Design

User experience and design insight from the team at Modus Create

Dmytro Kovalenko

Written by

Maker, Product Designer

Modus Create: UX & Design

User experience and design insight from the team at Modus Create

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade