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]


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.)