Why Making Everyone Happy Is a Bad Idea


Big Goal Number Two

As an interface designer, you are often given assignments with one big goal in mind: make this interface as usable as possible.

Now, ancillary to this goal are a lot of “mini-goals”, such as maintaining a holistically congruent branding image, communicating certain messages, conveying certain feelings, developing for certain platforms, and the list goes on.

But what if we have been missing out on big goal number two?

Let’s take a step back, as many of us probably often forget to do, and look at the reality of our situation.

On a daily basis, we as interface designers don’t have the task of designing an interface that targets everyone in the entire world (such as Google, eBay, Amazon, or Yahoo). Instead, we are given a target audience to build an interface for. This usually takes a backseat as one of our mini-goals, but we need to change our thinking. This needs to become our Big Goal Number Two.

“Target audience” is a pretty familiar term for most interface designers. Most of us know that we have to understand demographics and psychographics of the target audience, and study them in both quantitative and qualitative ways. We know that we should take into consideration all of the data we gather about the target audience in order to build our specific interface, and so on and so forth…

The Principle of Disagreeable Design

What we often forget to realize is that while we are designing for a specific group of people, we are effectively designing against everyone who is left over. What this means is that you are no longer designing with the “accidental audience” in the back of your mind. The target audience becomes the only focus, and therefore you estrange the rest of the world. This is an important principle to understand, for one simple reason.

Designing for an elite group is more effective!

Okay, so of course, you build your rules and boundaries around that ever-so-important target audience. But without the Principle of Disagreeable Design, you wouldn’t really be able to commit to that group completely. You still employ your overarching “best practices” and ideas that are rooted in the status quo’s opinion of what is usable, “good” design, or any of a number of other adjectives we use to describe our somewhat shaky “objective” design standards. Sometimes these shaky standards are the cause for a compromise when it comes to Big Goal Number Two, and we don’t connect with our target audience as efficiently.

But what happens when you take a daring leap towards an elite group that rejects almost everyone in the whole world? In fact, it DOES reject everyone except your target audience (the elite group)? That same daring leap that rejects an enormous number of people, as a tradeoff, very closely knits you as the communicator to your target audience.

That leap may be the difference that your interface needed to go from functional to awesome.

Note: I know what you’re thinking. Don’t take me out of context here and say that “that crazy editor at Fuel Your Interface is an interface-design-usability-relativist!” (Okay, let’s face it… none of us are that dramatic… I hope). Of course, there are almost always some things we retain as understood musts. For instance, text that is meant to be read must be able to be read. These are the obvious ideas.

Why does this work?

Tribes, by Seth Godin; Published by Portfolio Hardcover, 2008

Tribes, by Seth Godin; Published by Portfolio Hardcover, 2008

Web marketing guru Seth Godin discusses this idea in his book, Tribes (check it out here). Seth’s big idea is that everyone belongs to at least one tribe, and almost certainly to more than one tribe. Each of our tribes have distinguishing characteristics that set them apart from other tribes. These have been referred to as “sub-cultures”, “sects”, and, in our case, “target audiences.” What is it about your target audience tribe that sets them apart from every other tribe? What are their defining characteristics? Do they have quirks or a specific language and terminology that is unique to only them (can I get a shout out from the Star Trek fanatics!)? Do they have a corporate emotional connection to a certain object, animal, idea, or even person? Maybe they all wear a purple shirt on a certain day of the year, or perhaps they are committed to going environmentally “green”. Asking these questions will push you towards taking the leap that will knit you closer with your target audience (while unashamedly rejecting everyone else).

It works because this tribes psychology goes beyond the simple process of categorization of people. People find a sense of belonging within a tribe. If everyone was allowed to be a part of every tribe, there would be nothing special about being a part of it. So, tribes allow only those who subscribe to their particularities to “join,” though the process of joining is rarely formal.

So, in the same way, if everyone uses your interface, what’s so special about using your interface? Instead, very acutely pursue your target audience. This will, in the end, be the most effective way to achieve BOTH of your big goals.


In conclusion, it should be noted that this in no way means that you should reject outsiders directly or textually; this article, rather, is to help you realize the value in rejecting traditional practice if it means a more accurate and efficient communication to the people that matter: your target audience. They are by far the most important objective, even if focusing on them means that you end up estranging the “accidental audience”.


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