Satisficing the Client

We know that when people make a decision, they don’t normally weigh all options, gather all relevant information, or consider the big picture – Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions. They simply go with the first thing that makes sense, and do a quick logistics test in their head to see if there are any major gaps in the plan. It’s called satisficing. This is a well understood idea for any usability professional thanks to the book, Don’t Make Me Think. And we apply this concept well to the online experiences we craft.

However, it occurred to me in a client meeting not to long ago that this is also the way group decisions tend to be made, which is unfortunate. You’ve seen it too; someone throws out an idea and someone else may comment on if it’s good or bad. If there are no objections someone on the account side calls it out as the solution and everyone stops thinking about the problem. Is that a solution, yes. Is it the best solution, not likely.

When I draw on my experiences for visual problem solving (design work), I can recall thinking to myself okay, I have two solutions, but what else can throw down, what are my other options, how else can I see the problem. That’s a normal process for any creative. Once we generate a healthy selection of ideas, we sit back and evaluate them against relevant information and the big picture. Sometimes we have the solution, sometimes we need to think more about it.

That level of problem solving and critical evaluation may be a lot to expect from a client meeting, especially when you are expected to think on your feet and be decisive. It’s also difficult to get non-creatives to keep poking at something they think is fine. I am not advocating we turn every meeting into a creative brainstorm, but it’s a quality issue, and just a little of that creative spark can go a long way to improving the direction.

For me, the first step to getting more ideas out there is to realize satisficing is happening. Before you see a closure of the problem solving process, simply asking the question out loud, “is this the best option,” can get things going again. Having just two options are better than one. Jumping out the window to get outside is one option, but I would like to be able to use the door too.

Adjournment is another way to handle it if you have the time and an open minded client. Letting them know you will explore other ideas in addition to the one they’ve developed is the key. I rarely have had push back on that, but you have to watch out they aren’t in love with the first idea. When you are ready to show options again, objectivity is the stage you need to set. Remind them of their goals then present.

Overall, I think it’s an easy situation to remedy. If you intend to stop the presses in the interest in quality, most people are game, but you do have to step up and effect the typical process.

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