Imagine the following scene: you have to organize a lunch with colleagues. Some of them you know and some of them you have never met before. You are given a list of names but you are strictly asked not to contact them. No, never, don’t even think about it. Just organize this lunch. But… how do they like their steak? Oh, is any of them vegetarian? Maybe one has food allergies, or another person simply doesn’t like Mexican food.

And there you are being left wondering how you should organize this meal. You can make some assumptions or work based on the experiences you had with the colleagues you know. And then just hope that your choice of the restaurant works for all of them. But you don’t know.

And how would that make you feel? Awkward? Scared? Afraid? Because usually you would go and ask them what they like. Also because it is considered to be polite to ask people before just choosing them. So this request was very odd and probably just a joke and of course, you will go and ask your colleagues where you should go for lunch together.

Now, imagine designing software for people. You are wondering about questions like: do they use the software on their phone while on the move? Or at home, at night when the kids are asleep and everything is quiet? Are they red-green blind? What are they using the software for? Is it what we intended it to be? And again we don’t know. And we really want to go and ask but there is this request that tells us “No, please don’t ask, just do your work”.

And somehow to the very same people request number 1 sounds odd but request number 2 is totally okay. Because they already know what people want based on their experience and it is way too expensive to go and ask or they are just scared because they don’t want to raise expectations. But how can we be polite and caring to our coworkers but are patronizing our users? Is it because we never see them, meet them, talk to them? Are our users any different to our coworkers, friends, family? Shouldn’t we treat them with the same respect and care about their needs? Of course, we should. But it is so expensive.

The magic number 5

Well, I tell you a secret. It is more expensive to redesign software that failed based on excluding the users. And understanding users will save you money. Your service will be of much better value, there will be fewer errors, less frustration, and fewer calls to customer service. Sounds great, but still we don’t want to ask 100 people or more for their input. And you don’t have to. All it takes is 5. 5 is the magic number, described by Nielsen/Norman Group.

The magic number 5

And I love this graphic. It shows everything you need to know about user testing. If you ask 0 (no) users, you will find no issues. None, zero, zilch. Easy as pie. If you ask one person, you will discover about 30% of the issues. And if you then ask 5 persons you will have as many as 85% of your usability issues covered. If you ask more, you might end up at 100% eventually but usually, they just tend to repeat themselves. Of course, it would be best to repeat this process in the next phase of your design so you can dig even deeper. But until then, 5 gets you started. Lovely, isn’t it. So costs are no issue anymore.

But wait, aren’t you the expert? The User Experience Designer? You should really know what users want and design it the way so we really don’t have to go and ask.

Asking is caring

Well, let’s imagine this: You are going to see a doctor. You have made an appointment, waiting for hours in the surgery and now it’s your turn. You are sitting down with the doctor and he gets up, pats your arm, and calls the nurse to make you a plaster. He then says goodbye and off he goes. You are sitting there, speechless with a newly plastered arm.

So what happened? Of course, the doctor is the expert, he knows everything from giving injections to mending broken bones. He knows all the techniques and has all the medical knowledge. But how would he be able to treat you right if he is not talking to you? He can apply a technique (plastering your arm) based on previous experience (last time you were seeing him, your arm was broken) but where would that get you? Nowhere, I presume. So his task is to talk to you, ask you about your conditions, do some examination based on what you said, and then decide for the right treatment.

The same is true for us UX Designers. So please let us talk to our users, to find out where the issues are and where we can help. The following articles emphasize the importance of engaging end-user:


It doesn’t take much to ask and make your software your user’s space also makes the world a tiny bit of a better place. (Sorry, I always wanted to end with a rhyme…)