End Users Rule or End Users’ Rule?

Now Playing: Hello Again, by The Cars. “You might have forgot the journey ends. You tied your knots, and you made your friends. You left the scene without a trace, One hand on the ground, one hand in space.”

A couple of interesting experiences yesterday, one in person – or at least, over the phone – and one watching my new favorite TV show. Both concerned end users, and how products can and should be tailored to them.

First, the phoner. It came during a job interview. Won’t mention the job or the company, but it involves some writing for the Internet. Most of my writing has been for magazines, newspapers, etc., so I was explaining how those talents might translate. During the course of the interview, I talked about the Economic Development Guide, published by my former employer, Business North Carolina magazine. Last year we revamped content and circulation of the EDG. The key element, and what was of interest to the interviewer, was how we went about it.

I explained to him that I had contacts at the state’s Economic Development Partnerships who gave me the names of site-selection professionals they worked with. Those site-selection professions are, I believe, the end-users of the EDG, so I made some cold calls and asked what they thought should be in the guide and who they thought should get it. From their input, we put together a strategy to concentrate on case studies of businesses who had relocated or expanded in North Carolina, focusing on the challenges they faced and how recruiters overcame them. The site-selection folks said that would be interesting to other companies thinking about making a move. We also decided to partner with Site Selection magazine, the Bible of economic developers, on distribution.

The interviewer was impressed that I used establish contacts to solicit cold-call prospects and get to the ultimate end-users of the magazine to give them what they wanted. I felt great about that, of course. End users rule.

That feeling lasted until about 10 p.m., when I watched Work of Art, the Bravo series about competing artists. It has become my new favorite show, not because I know so much about art as because I don’t. I love seeing these folks and their creative processes, which makes me think about my own.

Which brings me back to end users.

During the course of last night’s show, some of the artists got sidetracked by trying to figure out what others – judges and the public – wanted their art to be. Guest judge Will Cotton chastised them, roughly like this: “Art shouldn’t be about the end user; it should be about you, and how you perceive/interpret the subject.”

End Users’ Rule? Wow! Talk about turning my beliefs upside down in seven hours.

Or not. There probably is a place for both approaches. True art should be uncompromising. I wrote here once that sometimes I write for others and sometimes I write for myself. Truth is, I always write these blog entries for myself. They work best when there’s just something bursting to come out. Whether it’s the lesson of joy in small things, such as convenience-store food on holidays, or outrage at bigger things such as finding a moral oil company or a politician in the Carolinas who doesn’t act like a dimwit at least part of the time.

Professionally, you can’t just set out to end all the users’ wants. There is, for one, always the client. Who ultimately makes the final decision on your work. And the clients’ customers. Who have to be pleased, too.

But you can’t just give people what they want: You have to give them what they need (to paraphrase Bob Dylan). Even if they sometimesĀ  don’t know they need it.

There’s an art to that, too.

A coda: Got shot down on the job interview. But gained a better understanding of myself. And of what the box is. And why I want to stay outside it. As far as I’m concerned, I won this one by losing.


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