Business vs. user – where should our prioritises lie?

As web designers we consider ourselves champions of the users needs, but at what cost?


It was 2010 and I was speaking at a conference in Oslo, Norway. I was on stage presenting to a room full of UX designers from around the world. The talk was going well and the audience was enthusiastic, but I knew that was about to change.

Taking a deep breath I announced to the room “as web designers we need to remember that business requirements are more important than user needs.” Unsurprisingly there was a sharp intake of breath and the twitter backlash commenced.

My point was that ultimately we are employed by the client and not by the user. We are paid to create a website to support the business, not the end user.

The response on twitter was impassioned. People felt that putting the needs of users first was the best way to fulfil business requirements. After all, happy users lead to a profitable business.

Most of the time this is true, but not always. Occasionally there are scenarios where users want one thing but the business needs another. In such cases it is important to prioritise the business requirements.

At least that is how I see it. I know many believe this is short term thinking on my part. That given time the benefits of nurturing users will ultimately help the business. They also argue that putting business needs first can be used as an excuse for the client riding roughshod over users.

The question is what do you think? It’s the next debate topic for the podcast:

This house proposes that web designers should acknowledge that business requirements are more important than user needs.

Do you agree with me that business needs are our number one priority, or do you think that is a dangerous road to go down? Have you examples of where user and business needs clashed, and if so how did you resolve it? Let us know in the comments.

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  • richarddale

    I definitely think mobile sites have their place. Many of the sites I built prior to RWD, static sites that view great on desktop and tablet. Its only when you get down to smart phone size that things start to break down. For many of these sites a mobile specific site would probably work better than a RWD site where I could be more focused and target the medium specifically.

    I did a RWD e-commerce website recently and although the end results were good, trying to get the shopping basket working and looking correct whilst being responsive was a nightmare and I couldn’t help but think that a mobile specific site would have been a better solution. When I browse the web using my iPad Air I never visit a fix width website and think this is a poor user experience why don’t they have a RWD site. I ony ever think this when on my iPhone.

  • sanedevil

    I am not a web designer, but have a team that is building one for me. So in trad way, I have to have a “web designer” design the site in Photoshop which is then handed to “web developer” to generate code.

    You can imagine there are several problems w this – time, costs, rework, code doesn’t do what the design shows etc.

    I hit upon your blog while thinking if there are tools that would eliminate the design-to-code step

    I very much agree w the house and would love to know the process and tools to help achieve this.