If there’s one thing old people love, it’s photos.

If there’s one thing that old people hate. it’s bad web design.

So why do photo companies hate old people?

Last year my mother in law asked me to help her create a photo book for her mother’s birthday. My wife’s grandmother is in her mid 90’s now and following a large family party, we decided it would be a great idea to produce a photo book showing all of the friends and family that had attended the party. Old people love photos.

Now my mother in law is probably a pretty average tech user for her age. She has an iPhone, knows how to navigate Gmail, and can navigate the web for general purposes. So I figured she would have no problem using the Shutterfly interface to build a photo book.

I was wrong.

The last time that I’d used Shutterfly, the interface had been pretty easy to use. A few clicks and you build a book. Done. But this time around, following several version updates, it was a lot more complicated. There was no simple method for organizing and displaying and if you weren’t very familiar with uploading and file management procedures, you were out of luck.

But this isn’t a post about Shutterfly and their bad interface. Instead, it’s about companies not realizing who’s going to use their stuff.

Over and over again, I’ve seen companies build websites and apps that fundamentally ignore their user base or just ignore good user experience and customer service as a whole.

The other day I was checking out some websites for wealth management companies. We were in the midst of a planning a build and I just wanted to see what people were doing in the field. So I checked out a few of the most popular on both desktop and mobile and what I saw was amazing.

The average user for a financial management company is going to be of an advanced age. They’re not going to be senior citizens, but they’re not likely to be particularly young. And yet, these sites were built ignoring accessibility rules such as text contrast. As such, they had built site that were almost invisible to their actual users.

Why is it that we continue to build products and design services that don’t actually serve or supply the market they’re intended to?

Simple. We have no idea who our customers really are.

So many businesses are so focused on what they do that they fail to establish who they’re doing it for. They pour money into apps and office equipment and fail to actually establish the point of it all.

Here’s how to do it differently.

Take ¼ of the money that you’re planning on spending on your fancy new website or your fancy new app or your new office expansion and redirect it towards having a sweet clue who you’re selling your products to. Spending a few dollars on understanding your potential customers will save you more than a few dollars when you’re trying to sell your product to them.

Bad web design is not (always) about bad web design. It’s about a lack of purpose.

The purpose of your site (or any front facing tools) should be to create an experience where your customer completes an action that you’d like them to undertake. But if you don’t know who those people are, and in some cases what you want them to do, how in the world do you think you’re going to convert.

So, figure out who your customers are, figure out what you want them to do, and THEN design experiences around that understanding. And if you’re Shutterfly, take a look at that interface again.