What to Do When Your Client Doesn’t Know What They Want

Three ideas that can help you uncover what your client really wants and the right problem to solve

Lina Bodestad
Published in
6 min readOct 22, 2019


Photo: JESHOOTS.COM/Unsplash

YYou know what the real problem is, according to science, with a lot of problem-solving we do in society today? It’s not necessarily in the methods we use, or in the people we involve (or exclude). Too often, we are solving the wrong problem in the first place.

Recently I had dinner with a friend who works in marketing and design. We got to talking about a phenomenon that’s hard to translate into a proper English term. Here in Sweden we call it beställarkompetens, which roughly translates into “client expertise.”

Or, you know, “the client understanding what the heck they actually want, and putting their thoughts into comprehensible words, preferably something more substantial than ‘we want something that feels high-tech and moves really fast.’”

As an organizational psychologist, my mind soon spun into thoughts and ideas as we talked about this over our bowls of greasy peanut noodles and sparkling wine (yes, those two go excellently together, thank you very much).

Here are three psychological concepts I believe can shine a light on why your client has such a hard time explaining what they want, while at the same time looking at your prototype and saying, “Well, we have no idea what we want, but we know this isn’t it.”

As the expert, you need to pull your client through the window

Well, not a physical window — that would be a medieval form of execution, called defenestration (hey, look at you, you learned a new word today!).

What I’m talking about is the Johari window, a psychological model to describe what you know and don’t know about yourself, and what others know and don’t know about you.

Describing the Johari window is a bit tricky without confusing the reader and jumping through a lot of hoops with double-negatives, so let’s just skip to the important part:

If you are an expert at something, and a client hires you to do your expert-thingy, it is your job to know what the client doesn’t know that she



Lina Bodestad
Writer for

UX psychologist. Writer. Avid drinker of oat milk lattes. lina.bodestad@layer10.se