The unreasonable consumer

On the 1st April Kara Pernice wrote a satirical piece on the NN/g blog calling on the user-centred design community to switch to creating difficult designs, for the benefit of humanity. I’m sure it was a jolly April Fool for the NN/g to post such an about-turn but in truth there is much we could do to reduce our obsession with making things easier for customers,  listening to their every whim and generally ignoring the realities of human existence in our pursuit of the utopian user experience.

I’ve written and spoken several times about intentional friction. It’s something I passionately believe in. From the smallest poke-a-yoke to the intentional deployment of dark patterns, there is a place for cognitive – even dexterity challenges – in user experience (see William Peng’s post on sign ups) and to deny them is to apply flat earth thinking to our behaviours.

The unreasonable consumer

As these things often do, later I read a great post by Rubuss’ Mark McArthur-Christie on LinkedIn where he mused about a customer service issue many of us have experienced, the customer that is beyond help and satisfaction. It inspired some additional thinking around how we might categorise these personas:

  • The naive dogmatist – a customer who is convinced that there is only one way things should be, often formed of a collection of misunderstood information: consumer rights, archaic business structures or some previously used process. Most likely to say “I know you can give me a discount”, “I know my statutory rights…”
  • The intransigent utopian – a customer that believes that businesses should operate at a loss in order to fulfil every customer whim. Indoctrinated with the mantra that the ‘customer is always right’ and will not yield as they insist that any problem or issue is fixed in their favour regardless of the cost or implications to the business or, for that matter, other customers. Most likely to say “I want to be compensated for my phone calls and be sent a brand new product tomorrow, personally by the Chairman”
  • The confrontationist – Generally spoiling for a fight and actually enjoys the process of battling with front line staff, progressively picking off more senior members of the team until they get to speak to the biggest boss whereupon they’ll continue to shout and begins to sound a little deflated and resentful when solutions are offered. Most likely to say “I’m going to be putting this all on Tripadvisor” and “I have sent my complaint to the chief executive and am waiting outside for them in my car”


In user centred design we have to believe that the user is, by definition, a sacred cow. I’d contend that, although the entire herd are not for the abattoir,  we should at least consider some tactical ignorance. In my second piece on the subject, I will be exploring what it really means to listen to users and not resort to the tropes bandied around by a lazy community of precocious experts.

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