Take a deep breath and repeat after me: I am not a normal Internet user. I am not impartial. I am not my audience.

With that mantra in mind, let’s talk digital. I’ve worked in a handful of agencies and with dozens of clients, and I still find it funny when I hear conversations like: “Well, I wouldn’t click that,” or, “I wouldn’t download that – I hate Helvetica.”

Those conversations aren’t limited to any role. We all do it. For me, it’s a little voice inside my head I have to shut off all day – sure, I hate Helvetica (although the documentary is amazing), but it’s still a perfectly viable font choice.

It goes beyond the creative team, as well. Clients are naturally invested in any new website or digital product, and our process can enhance that feeling of ownership. Before each project, we spend hours with stakeholders and executives to set a tone for the site, set ideal features and gather vital client-side input.

Once production begins, both sides can easily lose sight of the fact that we’re not building this site for ourselves, for our CEO or to create something we love. We’re building it for the people who weren’t in the room for Sprint 0 or sprint planning, but should nonetheless guide every decision we make: your users.

For both creatives and clients, it’s tempting to see ourselves as creators, owners and users, but that mindset can break your website or digital product before it ever launches. It’s the kind of thinking that gives rise to the ubiquitous trends you see all over the Internet.

Great websites aren’t just built on hunches, gut instincts or personal biases. Successful digital products should be created upon an understanding of our audience’s wants and needs, aligned with client business goals.

It might literally drive my designer insane, but if my goal is sell more shirts and my entire audience likes the look and feel of 1990’s Geocities websites – I better deliver on an experience that somehow takes that into account.

User and market research provides a touchstone throughout development. If a fellow designer or product owner says they don’t like the way something looks, you can validate any decision with hard data. A design only needs to pop more if actual users are demanding more pop.

Which brings me back to clients and Product Owners. Every stakeholder will have certain expectations or assumptions for a website’s launch. As creatives, it’s our job to remind our clients that – while they are heavily invested in their business – they are not their customers.

Hard data and user insights are the most surefire way to keep those expectations and instincts in check, on both sides of the table. That’s why each digital product should begin with marketing and user experience research. Armed with the right data, creatives can make choices that directly target user needs and defend those decisions to clients.

So take a deep breath and repeat after me: I am not my audience.

Now, go forth and create.


Robert Berris is EVP and Managing Director of Three Five Two where he leads company strategy and day-to-day operations.