Customers First

Choose Your Customers First, said Seth Godin in his post yesterday. “First figure out who you’d like to do business with, then go make something just for them.”

It’s a message I’ve been evangelizing for the past year: define the problem before devising the solution.

Mobile First and Content First both imply that your platform and your materials (= your solution) are where you should begin your design process. But how will you ever know if it’s the right platform and the right materials? No amount of best practices can get you there.

That’s why I advocate for Customers First — decide who you want your business to serve, find out everything there is to know about them, build empathy for them throughout your team, and then determine what you can offer to solve their problems that no one else can.

I assert that design is problem solving in my presentation and essay, What’s Your Problem? Putting Purpose Back Into Your Projects.

Design is both problem and solution. In order to know we are creating the right solution, we have to make sure we’re solving the right problem.

It’s amazing how often this reality is ignored. Companies invent for the sake of invention without caring, understanding or appreciating the problems their customers actually face.

To combat this nonsensical behavior, I share my three principles of problem solving:

  1. Define the problem before trying to solve it
  2. Ask questions to root out the truth
  3. Be obsessed with the problem, not the solution

Read the full text of my essay at: What’s Your Problem? Putting Purpose Back Into Your Projects

And remember, Customers First!

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  1. Ben Adonis says

    Hey Whitney, I agree with you. For some reason your post reminded me of the book ‘The Moment of Truth’ by Jan Carlzon a great book with a customer focus.

  2. says

    Great stuff, and could not agree more.

    The only thing that makes me very uncomfortable is the ‘customers’ bit in “Customers First’, can’t we just say ‘Users First’, or better ‘People First’?

    Not everything *has* to be a business, or does it?

    May I suggest a great read, the UK’s Government Service Design Manual ( and in particular the 10 Design Principles (

    7. Understand Context
    We’re not designing for a screen, we’re designing for people. (…)

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