Four Different UX Client Types: Recognize Them?

Four Different UX Client Types: Recognize Them?

I’m going to talk about our clients; the clients who pay for our work, for whom we love to go out of our way to make happy.

I’d like to talk about how these clients behave towards us before, during and after our work is complete and how their behaviour can greatly enhance, or just as greatly, diminish, the impact we have as an external consultancy in these projects.

It’s the story of the four T’s of being a UX Client: Terrified, Tiring, Tenacious, or Trusting.

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Terrified UX Clients

We come across this type of client on a regular basis.  The Terrified Client is usually hands on, wants to know what you are doing at any point in time, communicates often with you and your project manager, wants to know why you are doing it exactly this way and what will happen as a next step in the project. As this happens, they are also commenting that they don’t know much about this UX space, really trust your expertise and think you do a great job, but would also like to see this tweak to how you design a layout or run a usability test session.

For me these clients seem puzzling at first as they often talk glowingly about us in front of others, but then one day later are very concerned about some detail in the project. Usually it becomes clear over time that there are many things riding on the project and that it would reflect badly on the client’s career if this project didn’t go smoothly. With the Terrified Client, it is a slow process of winning them over, thus the next project often goes the same way. The clamping down on how we do things becomes a habit that is hard to shake if they started with this style.

Tired UX Clients

One of the realities of the UX field is that, despite the wonderful efforts of everyone in UX and the relentless optimism that ‘things are picking up’, ‘we see more awareness’ – to which I wholeheartedly subscribe, there is still a ways to go. Some of our clients have seen it all, tried it all and slug along knowing that frequently the work doesn’t get implemented or properly applied.These are our Tired Clients.

They let you do your job without challenging questions as they understand what is involved and most of the time really help figure out the best way to deliver work in their particular organizational culture. They are also quite happy at the end of a project because they recognize that, within the budget given, we maximize the results. I like to work with Tired Clients as they need a boost by working with likeminded people every now and then.

Tenacious UX Clients

This type of client keeps reminding you that they are ‘running a tight ship’ and that you, as one of their ‘vendors’, need to keep up with them and their organizations’ project cadence. Tenacious Clients don’t like to work with slow/disorganized/difficult external consultants and this is communicated prior to actually working together. It seems somehow better to say this up front and start on the wrong foot. This client loves to inject themselves in your work and ultimately thinks that you would do a better job if you’d follow their direction more. A Tenacious Client wants to make you aware every time something does not go as expected. Even though the new expectation is different from the project proposal or earlier conversations, there is still an expectation that we, as professionals in the field, should have seen it coming and proactively dealt with it.

In short, the Tenacious Client makes you as a consultant feel perpetually out of breath and never quite good enough. I can’t say they are very effective clients, especially since many don’t recognize their behaviour. Most seem convinced they are doing a good job by keeping us in check, but that is far removed from a productive reality.

Trusting UX Clients

Then we come to the last category: a type of client that makes our work more enjoyable and motivates UX teams that much more. The Trusting Client is like a really good manager, they know when to help, know when to back off and let us go and know when to pull in the reins in a collaborative and supportive manner.

Trusting Clients are not soft; they focus on the right elements of a project. They are usually knowledgeable in UX themselves and, on top of that, have the managerial skills to understand that many teams excel when allowed to rise to the occasion, even if the team is coming from an external firm and you don’t have immediate visibility into everything they do. Needless to say these are our favorite clients and we work with all our clients to trust us more with every project.

What Are Your Clients Like? 

So what type of client do you work with? Do they fall in any of these categories or even a combination of two?

What has helped me the most over the years is to keep my ears and eyes open and watch for the early signs of each type.

In true UX fashion, understanding your client audience early greatly helps to set yourself up for success. Good luck with your next client!

Tedde van Gelderen  is President at Akendi, a firm dedicated to creating intentional experiences through end-to-end experience design. To learn more about Akendi, email us at contact@akendi.com or visit www.akendi.com.

2 Responses to Four Different UX Client Types: Recognize Them?

  1. Brita Gill says:

    What are some good strategies for dealing with each kind of client? Possibly a followup blog post! The terrified UX client is the most difficult, unfortunately, not often avoidable. How do we as consultants and specialists help to bring our clients through the life cycle so that they can all be trusting UX’ers?

  2. Tedde van Gelderen says:

    Yes, good idea for another blog! If I’d answer this right now I would apply different leadership styles to the different client types: choosing between acting more like a coach (terrified, tired), a project manager (tenacious) or a peer (trusting) to match the client type style of working as much as you can.

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