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13 Aug 2003 by

We’re not designers, or programmers, or information architects, or copywriters, or customer experience consultants, or whatever else people want to call themselves these days… Bottom line: We’re risk managers. Designers who sell “design,” programmers who sell “code,” information architects who sell “diagrams” are selling the wrong thing. The thing to sell is reduced risk for the client. That’s what people want.

28 comments so far (Post a Comment)

13 Aug 2003 | birdman said...

"We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could
Though harm should come of it." --Robert Frost

13 Aug 2003 | Matthew Oliphant said...

I agree we manage risk. Telling a client that 20% of participants tested didn't "pass" may make them think, "20% aint bad." But then you help them understand that 20% of their 5 million customers is a big number. You show them the risk of not designing to meet the needs of the user; not coding to meet the needs of performance and maintainability; etc.

But, I would say that above that we are all Change Managers. We help the client define the need for change. We make sure that the change is planned for and communicated properly, both to the business (as with what to do with what we make for them) and the customer (as with what to do for what we made for them. And we follow the solution to make sure if met the need; as well as look for problems/opportubuties to meet the next need.

Now, most change management people I know might take offense to what I just said. I mean we just make pretty screens (well, I do:). But, understanding the need for change is the first thing I do when I take on a project. Luckily I am in a position that I can say, "Prove it," when someone says, "We need a new screen."

13 Aug 2003 | Mike said...

That sounds about right.

I think the massive consulting firm I work for is already pimping this one, but "solution architects" sounds good to me too ;)

14 Aug 2003 | alisha said...

good point. a friend of mine once said that we are craftsmen. Like carpenters - we create functional things (like a cabinet) that should also be visually pleasing.

14 Aug 2003 | alisha said...

btw, thank you for the Verizon post Jason. Very cool and very informative. I havent been here in a while and its awsome to see that the high quality of info is still here at SVN. Its what sets you apart.

14 Aug 2003 | fajalar said...

Alisha! Welcome back.

14 Aug 2003 | Don Schenck said...

For once, I must disagree with Jason. Using your definition, isn't every job a "risk manager" to an extent?

I think of those jobs a producers.

Alisha's back. Ugh ... there goes the neighborhood.


14 Aug 2003 | Joshua Kaufman said...

As Don said, every job is a risk manager to an extent.

The thing to sell is anything that supports profitability, which includes "risk management", "design", "code" and in the planning stages, "diagrams."

Profitability is what people want.

14 Aug 2003 | KoolKeith said...

Profitability is what people want.

But the degree of profitability is based on risk. You can't know how profitable you want to be unless you know what your risk tolerance is.

14 Aug 2003 | Darrel said...

Gotta agree with Don.

14 Aug 2003 | Graham Hicks said...

I think KoolKieth has a very good point. It's not necessarily about avoiding risk, it's more about understanding the risks a client faces, and helping them make smart choices about which risks to take.

If all a client wanted to do was to avoid all possible risk, then there would be no need for designers (designers change things, and all change is in some way risky).

14 Aug 2003 | alisha said...

Alisha! Welcome back.
thanks :-) I was fishing with EK.

14 Aug 2003 | ek said...

You weren't supposed to tell anybody! ;-)

14 Aug 2003 | Jonny Roader said...

Er, I'm confused:

Names Labels Titles Roles Whatever


14 Aug 2003 | JF said...

Names Labels Titles Roles Whatever

I'm not talking about "Risk Managers" as a title... I'm talking about it as the bottom line about what we need to do for our clients. Strip everything else away and what we're really doing is helping our clients manage their risk.

15 Aug 2003 | Jonny Roader said...

I get the point JF, but it's still a navel-gazing distraction to me.

15 Aug 2003 | JF said...

I get the point JF, but it's still a navel-gazing distraction to me.

Call it what you will. I call it a business opportunity.

15 Aug 2003 | fajalar said...

Call it what you will. I call it a business opportunity.

Call it what me what you will, but I agree.

It's an opportunity to look at the situation and help show the client how you can help them "manage the risks of everyday life". Oh wait, said like that it's registered trademark. ;)

16 Aug 2003 | alisha said...

You weren't supposed to tell anybody! ;-)
Ernest, theyre not stupid - they know about our..."fishing" thing.

16 Aug 2003 | alisha said...

Risk Management sounds like it fits to what 37 signals does to me. It doesnt fit to my line of work as a "craftsman" - but for them, yes.

16 Aug 2003 | Jonny Roader said...

"Call it what you will. I call it a business opportunity."

Fair enough, and I agree that there's mileage in the concept.

But just the other day you were praising Mark Hurst's attack on 'companies that are obsessed with process, not the end product'. This passage in particular impressed me:

"These endless, self-indulgent what should we call ourselves discussions may serve the people in the profession well, but it only serves to confuse co-workers and clients the very people the user-centered interaction usability architects need to work with in order to achieve true success."

I think alot of people have been attracted to 37sig's work because of your fresh and open approach as much as your excellent design, and this kind of discussion is a pre-requisite for that approach (flow of ideas and all that). But if I was a client I'd be wary of a company that professed being sick to the teeth of 'job title masturbation' one day but which next day suggested that web design is really a form of risk management - especially when they this (minor) volte-face is justified as a 'business opportunity'.

I'm probably getting on your case a bit too much here, but I've always thought that the perceived 'phoneyness' of the web design profession is something that desperately needs to be countered. Companies like 37signals and GoodExperience have done alot to dispell this notion, but it's work that needs continued vigilance.

In short, I thought Hurst's article was indeed 'fresh, fresh air' as you put it. This discussion sullies that air. We're back to the labels again: 'risk managers', 'change managers', 'solution architects', 'craftsmen', 'producers'.

Oh, and Don's excellent point bears repeating: risk management is part of every job. I think if the web profession tries co-opting this particular role as a 'business opportunity' it will set eyes rolling among our co-workers yet again. After all, each time our profession 're-brands' itself it loses a bit more credibility. I know people who are still shocked at the way so many firms suddenly became usability or accessibility specialists after designing sites that had been neither for so long - and that was hardly the first time web designers had set out a new stall.

16 Aug 2003 | Emily said...

Best explanation I've heard yet. I've often used "risk mitigation", but risk management is even better. I've gotten many a project manager on my side by explaining that if we take some time upfront to understand what the users/customers really want/need/find valuable, we LESSEN THE RISK that our end product won't be those things (i.e. suck). Project managers love to lessen risk - speak their language and you get plugged into more and more projects.

16 Aug 2003 | JF said...

I think if the web profession tries co-opting this particular role as a 'business opportunity' it will set eyes rolling among our co-workers yet again.

Ok... I think you're misunderstanding the intial point of this post... I'm actually trying to *strip away* the confusing labels and titles. All I'm saying is that what I've discovered is that clients are looking for ways to reduce their risk, not for "better design" or "better usability," etc. They may use those words, but what they really want is to limit their exposure to risk. That's what they understand (and rightfully so). I think it's a lot easier to sell design/usability services if you talk about how it will reduce risk (the risk of lost customers, the risk of higher support costs if the site is consufing, the risk of increased maintenance costs due to bad code, the risk of having to redo the site again in 6 months because they opted to cut corners, etc.), than if you talk about "it's going to look better" or "it's going to be easier to use," etc.

That was my point. Make better sense now?

16 Aug 2003 | Jonny Roader said...

That is a clearer statement of what you mean for sure, but there's still an uncomfortable sniff of snake oil about this IMO.

I agree 100% that good design/usability practice is all about reducing risk. But as Don originally pointed out, all jobs are about that. A checkout girl reduces the risk of a customer paying the wrong amount for an item. A fireman reduces the risk of fire killing people. A football manager reduces the risk of a team failing. If web professionals go about proclaiming this latest selling point (good as it is) I fear that people will respond with a shrug: 'they're at it again'.

I guess this is part and parcel of working in a young medium where the boundaries are still being established, but to me this constant musing about what the benefits of web design are to the client is no better than the constant musing about what we call ourselves. We can't keep re-inventing ourselves!

Besides, anyone who's been pushing usability at all will have used precisely the arguments you set out: lost customers, maintenance, cutting corners, etc. I just think there's an inherent danger in treating clients as so dumb to think that they haven't thought of this. The end-product should speak for itself, you know?

16 Aug 2003 | Jonny Roader said...

"Project managers love to lessen risk - speak their language and you get plugged into more and more projects."

This is very true, and apologies to Jason if this is what he's driving at.

But at the same time it speaks volumes that this has to be stated at all. Web designers really can't have been doing a good job if project managers across the globe haven't cottoned onto the risk benefits of good design. The PMs I know are obsessed with risk, and are generally pretty sharp at assimilating approaches that reduce them.

19 Aug 2003 | pblunt said...

I am a PM for a web firm, and I would agree that one of my primary focuses is on risk, though I would also say that client satisfaction and product quality are also major focuses. You could stretch risk to cover those, but I wouldn't.

Regarding clients' primary focus being reducing risk, I would disagree, unless you really stretch the meaning of the word.
Specific client goals could include increased profitability through decreased customer support costs, favourable distinction from competitors through visual and usability design, or increased revenue through new sales channels. You can package all of those things as reducing risk, but as the values in all of those examples above are already self-evident, what would be the point of that? Re-packaging "I want to be more profitable" as "I want to be farther away from losing money" doesn't feel right.

16 Jan 2004 | Flge Griechenland said...


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