The Internal User vs. External User Experience Dilemma

Sooner or later, companies that create products for businesses have to face the internal vs. external user dilemma.

The dilemma usually revolves around having to decide which user group will end up with the best user experience — often, at the expense of the other user group. The product designer, usually has to choose between two user groups that can be labeled, in a general way, as either internal or external users.

The internal users are on the side of the product customer — the ones that bought the product to optimize their business process. The external user group is the internal user’s clients or customers. For example, human resources staff, purchase an Applicant Tracking System, (ATS) to help them with their job applicant selection and hiring process; and on the other hand, we have job applicants — who are the external end users of the ATS product.

From time to time, the ATS product designers have to stop and really think about how a particular ATS process will affect the the users — especially when the requests of one user group will result in complications for the other user group.

You can guess which user group ends up winning in most cases — and here’s a hint: it’s the users closer to the product customer — the ones who bought the ATS. The product designers listen to their sales and marketing departments about the endless requests coming from their customers and developers eager to look busy and agile, keep on blindly developing and testing whatever the customer asks for.

Is this a problem?

In most cases the answer is yes. Some product development companies are not very “self aware” — they have no idea that they have a problem. Other product development companies know they are causing problems, but hope no one notices. In the early stages of a product category, this may not be a visible issue, but as product categories enter the maturity stage — new entrants, eager to disrupt and find better solutions will eventually discover this key weakness in your product strategy.

How big of a problem is it?

You be the judge. Here are some typical problems and scenarios:

  • It’s likely your product is a bloated monster with more features than your average user really needs.
  • Learning how to use the product and on-ramping may be more of a challenge than they need to be
  • Want to try to “slim” down the product by removing less used features? Get ready for the customer-activists that will threaten to leave your product if you remove “their favorite feature”
  • Your product is likely so complicated, that the end users (external users), have a problem using it. This usually translates in a lower ROI for your ATS customers
  • You’re leaving yourself wide-open for new product entrants who will offer products that are easier to learn, easier to use, and deliver more ROI faster
  • It’s likely that you’re ignoring your product’s life-cycle stage — this is a huge problem
  • In enterprise products, thinking just of “internal vs. external” users is not enough because there are many user groups — this dilemma is multiplied — which means you have a ton of problems

How do you solve this problem?

  • You need to leverage UX / user research to understand the internal and external user scenarios within context
  • You need to understand and segment your target markets
  • You need a strategic process to decide when, where and how a new process or feature will be added to your product
  • You need an active user feedback and monitoring system
  • You need UX data analysis
  • You need UX strategy and insights as a base for Product Strategy
  • You need product leaders that will guide your product in the right direction

Get in touch

I would be happy to collaborate with your staff to help find the right solution for your problem. I’m available for FTE and contract opportunities.

Let’s work together:  [email protected]


Product Differentiation and User Experience

Most design efforts I see are copies of other designs with superficial changes. While getting inspiration by other products may be a way to get thing done fast — it’s not a good thing for the product in the long run. When you copy other products, you lower the differentiation of your product in the market and this triggers larger issues.

Why does product differentiation matter?

Poor differentiation matters — over time, it can kill products and by extension, it can kill companies.

When competing products look too much like each other, this is bad for marketing and sales. Since products end up looking the same, marketing departments have a harder time making the product appear better than its competitors. Low differentiation makes it hard for sales to justify a higher price for the product, because the product looks similar to the competitor’s. Both marketing and sales find themselves backed up in a corner, with the worst choice they can make — to compete on price by offering the product at a lower price than the competitors — over time, this is a dead end.

It’s a dead end because it prompts the competitors to also lower their price, and before you know it, you’re racing to the bottom — until the products are no longer are able to sustain the companies that make them.

So, keep that in mind next time you find yourself copying a design from your competitor. And, please resist the urge to get clever. Differentiation is still a problem even if you change the font style, the color and the layout of the design you copied. The take away is this: differentiation based on visual design alone is not enough. You have to also differentiate the way things work, behave — how they help the users.

This means that you need to also differentiate interaction design, information architecture, design strategy, content strategy, data strategy, and user research.

Differentiation is hard work

When you try to differentiate your products you will encounter a few challenges:

  • The challenge of differentiation is blind to the fact that you either copied someone’s design or you used a popular design pattern. (Both lower differentiation). If it looks and works like the competitors, your design will deliver low differentiation.
  • It’s easy to get confused. Your instinct may be to “get creative”. In UX design, we try to ground our design in facts as much as possible. Getting creative may be an option but the design strategy should be grounded on the UX process.
  • Designing something different takes a lot of different skills. This is why most designers just copy things — it’s easier — but it’s irresponsible in the long run.
  • Applying differentiation blindly is a mistake. Applying UX differentiation is part of UX strategy. You need to apply it strategically — within context — you need to take the larger context into consideration and know the when, where, how and to what extent of applying UX differentiation. Get these wrong, it’s likely that your efforts will be wasted. Most of the time, this is a very costly mistake.
  • Selling a differentiated design may be an uphill battle. You’re likely to encounter opposition from product owners, project managers and developers who don’t understand the value of differentiation. Your allies are marketing, sales and product management. These folks should understand differentiation — it’s a basic concept in their field — and if they don’t understand it, you need to help them understand it.

Do your designers know how to differentiate your products?

Most UX job postings today mention a wide range of requirements from job to job. Some companies are still lost and think of UX as “visual design”, (focused on patterns, textures, colors, fonts), and ignore just about everything else. As a result, both companies and UX designers end up lacking the skills necessary to contextualize their designs.

Need help with this?

Get in touch: [email protected]


The missed revenue opportunities in “Page Not Found” content

Source: Financial Times

Have you ever followed a link and then you landed on a page like the one in the image above? A page apologizing because the page “does not exist” or “has been moved”.

Pages like these are red flags signaling missed opportunities for the companies that own them.

Why do these pages exist?

Some possible reasons:

  • A web developer or blogger made a typo in the link you clicked on to get you to your intended destination
  • You made a typo on the link for the webpage you wanted to see
  • Someone just gave you the wrong link
  • The company deleted the webpage and now doesn’t even know if it ever existed
  • The company moved the webpage but didn’t bother to forward you to its new location
  • The company changed the link for this webpage but didn’t forward you there
  • The webpage truly never existed

Missed revenue opportunities

The broken link may be the result from the company deleting a webpage. The missed opportunities:

  • The content should point the visitor to similar content as the one that was deleted — (in advertisement-supported websites, this is a lost opportunity for additional revenue)
  • The content could point the visitor to similar content in partner websites, (lost revenue)

Who you should talk to to fix this?

In a place without UX staff — talk to the marketing department to acknowledge the missed opportunities

In a place where there is UX staff, they would be the ones to help you get the ball rolling

In a place where the UX teams includes folks with job titles (or roles) like: Information Architect, Content Strategist — these are the folks that would be working on this type of issue directly.

In a place that has a web content manager but no UX folks — The web content manager would be the one to look at this.

Need help?

If you want to explore additional ideas and opportunities, get in touch: [email protected]

From data visualization to actions

The standard: Ignoring the user’s entire journey

Think about it. You’ve got a tons of data and now you have to look through it. You hope you to get something out of all this data. Hopefully, you’ll get some actionable insights that will improve your organization’s performance.

Data visualization tools help users perform only the first part of the process — looking at the data. Unfortunately, a lot of UX designers don’t acknowledge the entire data->action journey — they deliver an UI that displays data and provides the ability to sort/filter, along with import/export options and then call it a day. That’s not enough. The users are getting short-changed.

People don’t just need data, they need actionable insights. Better yet, they need a system that helps them take action and can perform the data-to-action process automatically.

Why is this problem so prevalent?

One possibility is that, the UX designers are not thinking through the user’s scenarios and their needs. They’re only doing a fraction of their job.

Another reason could be that other folks are doing user research – maybe they failed to map out the user’s entire journey, they failed to ask the right questions, and they failed to pass the right information to the designers.

A more typical reason, is that visual and graphic designers are pretending to be interaction designers — without having the right problem-solving skills yet. They get mesmerized by the beauty of data visualization graphics. They get caught up in tiny visual details, rather than looking at the big picture to remind themselves that the UI has to support a larger interactive process(I know this is a common problem because I was one of these guys when I started my career. Making the shift to thinking like an interaction designer is not easy and takes time.)


The User Experience of Data Collection and Data Analysis

How you gather data matters.

The data gathering experience and the data input experience matters and will shape the insights you gain from your data analysis.

Screen shot 2016-09-06 at 2.09.26 PM
Sometimes there are errors with the values offered for users to select

I’ve seen data collection experiences that will influence data gathering. Some examples:

  • There are errors in the values offered for selection (see image above)
  • Data categories are confusing
  • The way data input user interfaces are laid out and designed influences data input
  • Instructional text is ambiguous or confusing
  • Data labeling is confusing
  • Data collection requires too much input
  • Data input is required at the wrong time in the data collection process
  • Relationships and dependencies between different data input areas are not mapped out correctly
  • Considerable user recollection is required to input data
  • Data input requires translation of data (sometimes across formats, systems or processes — sometimes not commensurate)
  • Significant data processing is necessary before input
  • Data input demands correlation with external resources (ease of access to external resources)
  • The data input context and physical environment will influence the data input process
  • Data input that require human factors considerations. Factors like culture, psychology, human abilities and human behaviors, because they will influence data input (and data analysis)

After the data is gathered, we sometimes use algorithmic processes to process data. These processes have their own inherent risks. When we are using mathematical or algorithmic models to process data, we have to be careful that we are not being too reductive, since this would influence  data analysis and insights.

In other cases, the data is more complex and calls for an analytical approach that considers human factors.

There are human factors at play within data collection and data analysis — most of the time, we fail to acknowledge these until we find hard to explain data anomalies. You have to be able to look at these data anomalies and determine whether there are issues in the data collection process or data analysis process — then you have to be able to fix the problem.

Data collection and data analysis processes are experiential, and these experiences influence the quality of data you collect and its interpretation.


Today, vendors are rushing to create data collection and data analysis tools without thinking through the user experience. As an user of these products, you have to be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses to use them better than your competitors — or to select a better tool altogether.

A common mistake in digital business

Would you have a house painter create the blueprints for a building?

Would you have an interior decorator (focused on fabrics, textures and colors) define how a building should be structured to meet the demands of business operations?

Would you have a sign painter define the business processes and flows that will serve your customers?

If the answer to any of these questions is “No” then you have to ask yourself why you would think it’s OK to leave projects in interaction design and information architecture up to visual designers, and graphic designers.

Graphic designers, and visual designers are like the house painters and decorators that arrive long after the blue prints for a building have been defined. They arrive long after architects, engineers, investors, politicians, and city regulatory bodies meet discuss and negotiate. Painters and decorators, who are focused on colors, style and visual branding arrive after the building has been defined and has been built.

The roles of Interaction Design, Information Architect, are not interchangeable with the roles of visual designer or graphic designer.

Thinking these roles are interchangeable is a common and critical mistake in today’s digital business world.

An information architect can help your staff and customers find what they need. Information architects contribute to making sure your company and your users, take advantage of information, data and analytics when these opportunities are available. These efforts, lead to new features, and new products differentiated by user experiences rather than by superficial differentiation based on colors, textures and fonts.

You want your products to be differentiated by great user experiences rather than by the superficial application of colors and fonts.

Interaction designers have opportunities not only to understand users and their needs but also they have a valuable opportunity to get glimpses into what comes next for your users, products and services. Interaction designers are key to innovation and invention. They deliver a great amount of value.

Today, as the visual design aspects of UI assets are standardized and included as part of UI frameworks,  visual designers and graphic designers contributions have shifted to become more useful in the creation of marketing, sales and training content or in improvements to applications that have been defined or built.

I worked in graphic design, visual design for a couple of years and then invested time in graduate school to learn about Information Architecture. Afterwards, I received professional training in Interaction Design and User Research from the folks that wrote the leading textbooks in the field. I also invested time in learning about Human Factors, which takes a  comprehensive look at the interactions between people, the machines they use and the context of interaction. I bring these skills along with general business knowledge and experience.

Get in touch

Do you need help with your project? Get in touch : [email protected]