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Obfuscation as competitive advantage. Posted on 03/01/2002.

In the fast-paced iterative design process I'm currently engaged in, we're having a round of user tests each week, in order to get feedback on the latest design rev. After lining up a full day of test subjects, our recruiter sent a note detailing a wrinkle that emerged:

[Test Subject 5] cancelled because he decided that offering his
insight could potentially not be in his best interest, claiming that
simplifying the services would allow for more competition.

This isn't the first time we've heard this from our client's customers. A few actually believe it's in their best interest to keep the experience difficult, because they've mastered it, and their competitors haven't.

6 comments so far. Add a comment.

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Your client's customers may feel that way, but I bet your client doesn't.
Posted by Anne @ 03/01/2002 12:32 PM PST [link to this comment]

Well, right, that's why they hired us. It's an interesting contradiction.
Posted by jjg @ 03/01/2002 01:31 PM PST [link to this comment]

A similar twist - I work for a company that develops custom applications for clients, and then provides *training* for said client on the same app.

Just a tiny conflict of interest there - I have yet to talk about reducing training times by an order of magnitude, but I'm not sure how to approach that one when it comes.
Posted by Jess @ 03/01/2002 05:44 PM PST [link to this comment]

Interesting problem indeed. So much for the mantra "give the user what they want" and all the rest of the UCD dogma. ;-)

I've seen similar exclusiveness in online communities -- the members go out of their way to have obscure conventions and such, knowing that this will keep away the unwashed hordes of tourists.
Posted by Eric Scheid @ 03/01/2002 08:49 PM PST [link to this comment]

surely its in your clients interest to find the "competition" who have not mastered it and see if they can use this.

If it is a UI issue then asking people who liked the old UI is always a bad move.

If its functionality, then the client should provide the functional tests.

Either way the wrong guy is being asked for comments. No?
Posted by Paul Brian @ 03/03/2002 04:54 PM PST [link to this comment]

Most professions have this "problem" to some degree. It boils down to "things that were hard/ expensive/ boring for me to learn should be hard for others to learn." Professional academia at times seems based almost soley on this attitude. Making things simpler _does_ allow for more competition; it's easier to copy something that's simple.
Posted by Andrew @ 03/04/2002 12:14 AM PST [link to this comment]

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