Product Design Meetings: Does Your Customer “Have a Seat?”

I want to share a dirty little secret with you…


Product Development happens at a fast and furious pace, because getting the product to market quickly is the top priority. And on top of the pressure of a deadline, hundreds of decisions need to be made, many formal and informal discussions between team members need to be had, and countless hours need to be spent thinking through design problems of one form or another.

And here’s the dirty little secret: Unfortunately, the customer ends up taking a “back seat” in this very hectic process. Or, worse yet, they are forgotten altogether at times.

Imagine that. The very person you’re designing your product for, comes in last place in most product design efforts. It seems like a crime, doesn’t it?

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Now, you could follow a lot of great advice that says you should do extensive research, hold focus groups, etc., but I want to share one very simple technique that you can incorporate today to help remind you and your design team why you’re doing all of this in the first place (your customer!).

Jeff Bezos, founder of, is famous for leaving an empty chair at the conference table and letting everyone know it’s occupied by the “the most important person in the room” – the customer.  This very simple technique acts as a reminder that while we may argue the technical details for a particular item or debate the various ways of building a sales strategy, the customer’s view of and experience with the product will, ultimately, determine our success.

What should you present to your product developer when passing off your project? Here are 10 questions to get started.

While the “empty chair technique” is a great reminder, it’s also helpful to have a clear vision of who your customer is at a deep, emotional level. That’s where “personas” come in…

In an effort to deeply understand “ideal customers,” many companies develop “personas,” literally, putting names and faces to each ideal customer. This helps everyone relate to the customer as a real person. Maybe the persona is similar to someone they know or can relate to. The goal with a persona is to “bring the customer to life” during marketing and product development efforts so everyone can understand what it’s like for that customer to experience the product.

This simple, yet powerful, process can help you think of people you know that match the persona and imagine what it would be like for them. For example, if you were developing a product that is supposed to connect to a wifi network, how would your father experience the unboxing, the installation, the setup, etc.? By going through this process, you might uncover simple omissions in the user instructions, or little quirks in your app that may have previously gone unnoticed.

Keeping a focus on your customer throughout the product design process will, also, help in prioritizing features and, ultimately, the makeup of various prototypes (such as your MVP). You and your team can ask questions like “Does our customer really need this feature?” or “Is this what our customer is really worried about?”. These simple reminders can be very effective in helping your team become more efficient, and even help in breaking the deadlock in tense design decisions.

Of course, I know that innovation and “engineering the perfect design” are near and dear to your heart when developing your product (and there’s plenty of room for that!), but always remember to “reserve a seat at the table” for your customer. It’s one of the simplest and most effective ways to ensure long-term success.

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Jarrod Barker
About the Author
Jarrod Barker
Jarrod has a keen interest in technology development and operations. He has an honours degree in Mechanical Engineering and his industry experience spans product design, sports technology, medical device engineering and power generation. He has worked for a leading design consultancy in Cambridge, UK and now runs the Outerspace branch in San Diego USA.

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