From survival to success: Is your business as user-centered as it should be?

By Lauri Rummukainen, Design Strategy & UXMay 27, 2021 • Read time 7 min

If focusing on the user makes everything else follow, then why aren't all businesses doing it?

Money is one obvious reason. Time is another. Often these two go hand-in-hand: you have a budget not to be exceeded and a deadline that must be met. The third reason, and perhaps the deepest one, is the prevailing way of thinking.

A choice you always need to make when developing something new is choosing either an off-the-shelf standard solution, or a solution that creates competitive advantage.

Sometimes choosing a standard solution is the right thing to do. However, if you want users – whether they are employees, partners or customers – not only to find your solution functional and usable but also convenient, pleasurable and meaningful, it’s a must to incorporate them in the design and development process.

Scapegoats for failure

Have you ever found yourself – either as an individual or as a business – wondering why people didn’t use your brilliant idea? The easy explanation is that users just didn’t get it. The real explanation for failure usually is that people don’t use things they don’t need. 

A common problem is that often even experienced professionals start with the solution in mind, and then go back and reverse-engineer the users and the problem to fit the solution.

SOLUTION -> PROBLEM -> USERS

The user-centered process ideally starts with understanding your users, what problems they have, and then design and develop solutions that will meet their needs.

USERS -> PROBLEM -> SOLUTION

At this point, you probably know which of the former approaches your business is leaning towards. Next, we’ll explore the typical stages businesses go through when their design and development process evolves and matures.  

Where do you stand: the stages of user-centrism

The typical business progresses through a sequence of stages as its own design and development processes develop and mature. One of the maturity models, the original one, is the corporate user experience maturity model developed by Jakob Nielsen:

StageTypical behaviorExamples
HostilityFocus on building working products with no regard to usability. Conservative organizations with no or limited competition.
Developer-CenteredReliance on own (faulty) intuition rather than user research to make design decisions.Most startups are forced to start here, many who survive also get stuck here. Many construction companies.
SkunkworksSome ad hoc user research done but without sufficient planning or budgeting.It’s common to go back and forth between stages 3 and 4. Most car dealers.
DedicatedFunds and plans for user research exist, but activities are still sparse.Media companies.
ManagedDedicated employee to lead user experience efforts, but the budget is possibly unstable or limited. User-centrism gains company-wide momentum.Banking and insurance.
SystematicUser research and iterative improvements incorporated throughout projects, with sufficient budget.Some modern online stores.
IntegratedInvesting heavily in early user research and in tracking usability metrics, injecting user experience into the span of the design lifecycle.Born-digital businesses. Zalando, Airbnb, Spotify.
User-DrivenUser research results are used to determine priorities and company-wide business direction beyond product design alone.Let us know if there is a business which in your opinion belongs here. We haven’t come across with one, yet.

Which of the stages resonate with your current situation? Are you satisfied with the situation? If not, keep reading further, as we’ll give some practical advice on how to make progress. 

Seven tips to push the needle forward

To make progress, both attitude and resources - budget and time - are needed. Taking small steps, as Jakob Nielsen suggests, often works better than trying to take a big, giant leap. Build on what you already have (customer satisfaction surveys, focus group findings) and build trust within your organization.

Here are some tips for pushing the user experience needle forward:

  1. Build a relevant reference case (see an example below) for your work showing some wins.

  2. Get good at talking about the value of user research.

  3. Have answers to common excuses for ignoring user needs.

  4. Gain allies who also see the value of higher user maturity.

  5. Aim to involve users as early in a project’s lifecycle as possible.

  6. Any user feedback beats no feedback, ask family & friends if real users are out of reach.

  7. Justify increased investment by communicating the impact of user-centric processes on business metrics such as ROI, productivity or NPS.

How can I put this into practice?

Consider the following case: You need to improve your customer service. You have four options:

  1. You do nothing. Zero investment; zero gain. Other than potentially losing your customers. You invest 10 units in an off-the-self-difficult-to-use solution that actually might even increase the time per customer service case, as well as decrease both customer and employee satisfaction. Productivity gain: something between zero and negative.

  2. You invest 15 units in an ok-to-use feature list driven solution. Productivity gain: +5%.

  3. You invest 20 units in a pleasure-to-use user-centric solution. Productivity gain: +10%. NPS increase: +5% points.

Which one do you choose?

Patience is key

Don’t be discouraged if progress is slow. It takes continuous effort, communication, and game-sense to keep user-centrism a priority. 

User-centricity is a journey, not a destination.


Let’s build your next smart & user-centric project together. Book a free consultation and share your idea with us. We’ve built over 300 digital services and MVPs.

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Get to know the actual users before getting too far ahead with the design and development process. Even superficial user research will help you decide whether you should actually commit to the costly development process. Design Sprint is a handy tool for a better product development: