Dear Dr. Usability,
I am working for a client who does not want to conduct user research. He just wants me to start giving him page designs for his Web site. This potential client has a specific audience in mind: Vegetarian Veterinarians. Shouldn't I insist on doing some user research before giving him what he wants? It would be unprofessional to just give him designs without some research supporting their value.
Worried Contractor in Connecticut
First, whatever else you do, cash this client's check as soon as possible. You're in an enviable position: Bad business practice is lamentable for the business, and a bounty for the consultant.
Then, of course, do follow your intuition and inform the client of the value of user research, but remember that The Client Is King.
There are two discount methods you can use, given your user population.
First discount method: Pretend to be your user population. Before you create the requested page sketches, at your workspace, surround yourself with vegetables and an animal of your choice. If no live animals are available, meat will do (we're after context here as long as you don't eat it), and try very hard to think like a vegetarian veterinarian. (An ethnographer would insist on getting a pet or visiting your doctor, but time may be limited on this client's bank account.) After an hour or so, create a profile that incorporates your new attitudes and interests. Write it up and include an attractive photograph, call it a persona, and give this fictitious Veggie Vet a name. You can ponder how "Bob" (this is a good starter name) would respond to the site design. Show your new persona to your client as proof of objective validation for your design.
Second discount method: Very often the client will have access to a domain specialist or, if you're lucky, he will think he is one. Use your "domain specialist" to test your design directions. This process will have the ingenious effect of transferring accountability for the design to the domain specialist. Now in reality, there is no guarantee that the domain specialist's predilections will generalize, but that's the Real World.
I can already hear some professors saying, "What quackery! (No pun intended.) You can't do that!"
First of all: I am a doctor. Second, this is the Real World. When your client shells out three times the money to do it right the second time, the client will get a respectful and well deserved "I told you so." Plus you have the considerable added advantage of being able to put the "before" and "after" screenshots in your portfolio. And you'll have the last laugh; the vegetables will make great soup.
Send your usability questions or your problem screen/window/page layouts (and/or possible answers) to: Ask Dr. Usability in care of firstname.lastname@example.org.
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