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The noble DJ refuses song requests
You must stay deep because talk is cheap
When there’s language that doesn’t sound right in a user experience, people look to a writer to fix things. Sometimes they show up with an excruciatingly specific prescription for what to do.
“Can you add the words Click to enter above this button?”
I call these song requests. They remind me of someone squeezing through a crowd on a dance floor with an excruciatingly specific song they need the DJ to play. Except the da clurb is deafening, and this someone doesn’t quite know the song title. So they hurl exaggerated lip movements in the direction of the DJ booth:
“People aren’t moving to the next page of the website. They probably don’t see the button. Can you add three words?”
And they electric slide away while you try to figure out what just happened.
The path of least resistance is to take the request and polish it up to standard. Sometimes this is a perfectly cromulent move, but sometimes this request is a symptom of a gnarlier problem.
And this problem, dear content designer, is the one we were born to solve. Before adding a song request to my queue, I ask the requester:
“What is this experience all about?”
“What does the user really want here?”
“What do we need the user to think, feel, or do?”
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Some folks who work with me must find this annoying, but I’m only trying to learn the full context so I can design the best experience for the customer. I want to understand which gaps in meaning content can help clarify.
What if you don’t have time to ask questions?
What if you don’t know the real problem?
What if you only have forty-five minutes to provide a recommendation?
What if you’re providing this advice while you’re on vacation?
You must step away, because you are an artist.
You are an artist! You can either sculpt the product experience into shape with focus and a chisel or you can cover it with fingerprints that barely make an impact. You choose.
You’re also a DJ. And the noble DJ’s first responsibility is to the writhing crowd. You wouldn’t play “Mambo No. 5” at a Burning Man wedding, at sunrise, just because someone slipped you a piece of paper, wouldja?
No, you’d do it because it’s the right choice for the experience. And to feel confident in that assertion, you must do your homework, take the time to ask questions, and do it right.
Sometimes that means stepping away. Sometimes you must refuse a song request.
A cohesive story is not written in pieces and a dope user experience is not assembled via ad hoc requests from disconnected stakeholders. You must spin the whole story to feel proud of the result.