“We don’t need to explain that, our customer will know X.”

This is my least favorite product design phrase; I hear it all the time. When you assume your customer will know something, you are deciding who they are. More often than not, you are deciding that they are just like you. In a tech startup, that probably means you have decided your customer is a 20-something male who gets paid to write code. Congratulations, you have just excluded most of the population from being your customer.

“But our product is for engineers!”

Great! The same principles apply. By assuming domain-specific knowledge you cause friction for anyone not already in the know. This is the wrong way to weed out the unqualified from buying your product. You are alienating many people who might need your product but first want simple answers to simple questions.

Here’s an example that works for anybody. How many times have you been excited to check out a new product or app only to find that the website is so convoluted, unclear, and confusing that 20 minutes later you know less about the product than you did before you arrived on the site? You wanted this product. You might have purchased it, if only the site had made the effort to explain how it works.

Most startups are engineering-centric and many founders ignore this communication problem on a daily basis. For example, I have a friend who is a designer at a financial technology company. She is constantly struggling to include information to inform the customer.  For example, she included an explanation of CSV codes (card security value, the 3-digit code on the back of your credit card) in her design only to be forced to remove it.

“Our customers will know what those are so we don’t need to explain them. We’re just going to target tech-savvy male users for now, so it’s not an issue.”

Wrong! It is an issue. Even though you might not welcome non tech-savvy people on day one, if you consider them from day one, then you can design a space that, in the future, can make sense to them. On the other hand, if you cut them out of your thinking entirely, it’s extremely difficult to create a truly inclusive product in the future. Why does this happen so often? In my experience, it is lack of empathy that is the real problem. If you set out to weed out the customers you don’t want, you are creating a bad product.

The correct approach is to educate your customer about your product and empower them to make an informed decision on their own. Your product information should be accessible to everybody. The more accessible you make it for everybody, the more pleasant an experience all of your customers will have. You reduce friction and frustration for everybody. Building a revolutionary new product doesn’t get it sold. That is only a small part of the story. You must consciously target the hardest-to-solve for users. I often create a user persona for a woman in her 70’s who just received her first iPad as a gift. If she can understand X, the product works. With her in mind you will make better choices and the result of these choices together will be better products and better companies.

So, here’s what I believe–

The customer does not know X. We need to explain.