High fives all around: Why we push clients to think outside the box*

*Note: I’m pretty tired of cliches like “think outside the box.”

If we had been in the same room, there would have been high fives. I know it. Instead, we were on a conference call hosting a screen share.

After weeks of working on a dashboard for one of our enterprise software clients, it was time to present our solutions. We were excited, particularly because, as always, we had a surprise in store.

Let me take a quick step back…

This was a pretty standard project. The goal was to develop a web application to enhance the user experience and fix a few technical issues their team, chock-full of industry experts and software developers, was well aware of.

They had no problem telling us exactly how the dashboard needed to work. After all, they had built it. But they didn’t know much about how actual users were actually using it. (Sound familiar?)

For our team, this is where things got fun.

We could all tell the client had a solution in mind: tweaks, functional fixes, technology updates. But with little user experience design expertise (read: no user experience design expertise) we knew they were missing a huge opportunity to reimagine the application, rebuilding it from the user’s perspective so they would enjoy using the app. So, we got to work.

After diligent research about the client, their industry, their target market, and their current users, we came up with a solid solution that would address the client’s preconceived notions and meet the objectives of the project. And then we came up with a solution that would blow their minds.

On the day of the presentation, we delivered the expected, conservative option. “This will work,” I said. “But we found another option that will work even better.” Then, we showed the completely reimagined solution, described the thinking that inspired the new direction, and talked through the benefit of taking a different approach.

The excitement was palpable, even over a conference call. The client was thrilled that we had taken ownership of the problem and found an unexpected solution, not just checked the boxes. This new direction would meet the needs of the company, but more importantly, it would exceed the expectations of the user and make it more likely that they’d use it and love it – not dread having to log in.

And selfishly, our team was thrilled, too. We all love to be challenged. We get excited to play, experiment, and discover new possibilities for a product. We live for the high-five moment that comes when client realizes they’re about to get more than they ever expected. That’s how Whistle works.

Look, we’re not here to fulfill orders; that’s not why our clients hire us. We’re here to create products that users will… use. Sure, the client may come to us with a clear picture of what they’re looking for, and most likely we’ll give that solution a shot. But we just can’t bring ourselves to stop there.

We encourage risk taking and are inspired by our failures. We get curious about our client’s problem and stay curious. We get to know the client’s user base through the creation of proto-personas. We give these straw men names, ask them questions (and, yes, answer them), create a life for them, and then we figure out how this product would fit into that life. We follow every idea with, “Yes, but what if…” Our clients are too important to stop at anything less.

Why? The problem isn’t always obvious to the client or their users, and neither is the solution. And we all know guessing is simply a waste of time. By taking the time to think outside the box, we can get the client to acknowledge a challenge they may have missed or ignored, scratch an itch they’ve had for a long time, or shock them with a solution they would never have considered before.

And that’s where the high-fives come in.

Finding unique, user-centered solutions isn’t rocket science (unless you work in aerospace engineering, in which case it is absolutely rocket science). But it does take some legwork to find a partner who will push you to think differently about a problem… to make you just uncomfortable enough to see the challenge in a whole new way.
That partner has got to know your organization, industry, and user intimately. They have to be relentlessly curious about your problem and how to solve it. And they’ve got to believe a risk is worth taking if the reward will blow your mind.

Added bonus if they’re motivated by high-fives. I know we are.