Using Design Thinking to Solve UX Disagreements

Dealing with UX Disagreements

The big day is here. You’ve spent weeks going through the design process, and it’s time to get all the stakeholders and executives together for the grand reveal of your product design. Everyone sits down in the conference room, you plug your laptop into the projector and the screen comes to life.

You recap the project goals and audience, then walk everyone through the process you used to create a new solution. After pausing for a moment and taking a deep breath, you click the “Next” button to show your proposed designs. You glance around the room, waiting with anticipation to see their first reaction.

Crickets.

“So, do you think this accomplishes our goals?” you ask, with the pit in your stomach growing bigger by the minute.

“I like it,” the Marketing Director proclaims. “It has a dedicated space to show off the latest features and promotions, which will help drive sales.”

Yes! Positive feedback!

“I agree,” the Product Owner chimes in. “We’ve received feedback that users have a hard time finding their Account Settings, so I think it’s great that you moved that section to an intuitive location.”

Awesome! That’s exactly what we were going for.

“Yeah, I see what you mean,” the CEO says. “But I was really hoping it would look cooler and more high tech. This seems a little boring to me.”

Ugh. Disagreement and personal preference.

Every UX designer and professional of any kind can relate to this scene. You put in so much effort to develop an amazing solution that you feel super confident about, only to have the wind taken out of your sails by naysayers and differing opinions. We’ve all been there.

While disagreements can be stressful and frustrating, they don’t have to ruin all of your hard work. Here’s how to spot the signs that there’s a lack of alignment and be the hero who helps your team come together to design a successful product.

 

We see teams struggle with UX design for many reasons, but the top cause by far is that they prioritize business goals over user needs.

 

The #1 Cause of Differing UX Opinions

We see teams struggle with UX design for many reasons, but the top cause by far is that they prioritize business goals over user needs. If your design process is driven by technology and engineering rather than user needs, your product’s success will be limited. It may functionally work and be “good enough,” but it will never be great because it doesn’t address the “user” part of “user experience.”

Think about two of the most famous theme parks of all time, Disneyland and Six Flags. Disneyland had a vision: to create magical experiences for their guests. Every detail – from the layout and rides, to the characters, music and more – was designed with this vision in mind.

Then, there’s Six Flags, which prioritized profits over the user experience. Their parks were quite popular for a few years, but because they were more worried about the business than their guests, the competitors caught up and drove them to bankruptcy in 2010.

Two seemingly similar products with two very different outcomes. What’s the difference? One focused on the business, while one focused on the user.

The External Signs of Internal Friction

Differing UX opinions not only lead to tense emails and awkward conversations within your team, but also create bigger issues that affect the entire company. Can you relate to one of these scenarios?

Sales and usage aren’t as high as you expected.

Years ago, the founder of your company identified a problem they thought tons of other people could relate to. They spent thousands of dollars (maybe even millions) to build a solution and released it to the world with great anticipation.

“This is our golden ticket!” they thought. “People are going to love it.”

But then…nothing.

Sales numbers barely hit a fraction of the goal, and usage was low to non-existent. What happened? Among other issues, there were probably differing opinions about the product’s strategy and direction behind the scenes, which ultimately snowballed and led to disappointing performance.

 

A self-design style may allow users to complete their tasks, but its “minor” shortcomings add up to major problems, including lost time, higher costs and unhappy customers.

 

You see people creating “hacks” to use your product.

Our team at Drawbackwards was working with a client to redesign the support tool they had originally built to help Customer Service Representatives manage incoming calls. After an initial meeting to discuss the project, we sat with the representatives to learn more about their role, observe how they currently use the tool and identify opportunities for improvement.

The first thing we noticed was that many of the reps had Post-It Notes stuck to their computer screens with instructions on how to complete tasks within the tool. The original designers may have thought the system was intuitive because it met their needs, and they understood it like the back of their hand. But unfortunately, the average user couldn’t find the information they needed when they needed it, so they designed their own “hacks” and shortcuts to get the job done.

This self-design style may allow users to complete their tasks, but its “minor” shortcomings add up to major problems, including lost time, higher costs and unhappy customers.

Sprints move slowly.

Like its name suggests, a sprint is a short work cycle (usually 1-4 weeks) that helps teams work quickly and effectively, while allowing for adjustments and testing to make progress on a project. However, sprints slow down when there are disagreements about the project’s goals or the way they should be achieved, which puts deadlines and budgets at risk.

Sometimes, this lack of velocity is a good thing because the project team is taking the time to gather more information and make smart decisions. However, when the project slows down because of rework or team members spinning their wheels, it’s a sign that the project – and the product as a whole – may be in danger.

 

The irony of product design is that meeting long-term business goals is only possible when user needs are put first.

 

3 Ways to Use Design Thinking to Overcome Disagreements

The first step to overcoming any issue is recognizing the problem. If you can relate to the warning signs above, your team may be suffering from a lack of UX alignment. How can you find a cure? Try these three tactics to conquer differing opinions, get everyone on the same page and lead your team to success.

Always Put Users First

When business goals are prioritized over user needs, your product will only get so far. The irony of product design is that meeting long-term business goals is only possible when user needs are put first.

The strongest Product Owners, designers and business professionals know that “Design Success = User Success.” There may be many stakeholders and board members to please, but with this mindset, the end user is the Chairman of the Board: the one “person” who brings everyone else together and ensures they’re all working toward the same goal.

Tesla is the perfect example of a company that always puts users first. Owner Elon Musk has a vision for Tesla’s user experiences, and he can articulate the exact experience he wants customers to have. When he makes business decisions, he makes them based on what’s best for the user, not what’s most profitable, easiest, or most cautious.

For instance, Tesla’s Model S includes Autopilot, a feature that uses sensors, a camera, radar and digitally controlled brakes to automatically stop the car before crashing. Autopilot was celebrated as a new frontier in safety and convenience – until a driver using it died in a fatal crash.

 

The “Design Success = User Success” mindset ensures the entire organization is focused on meeting their customers’ needs at all times, which results in higher sales, higher satisfaction, and ultimately, long-term success.

 

Musk could have immediately pulled the feature and gone into damage control mode to save the company’s image and avoid potential a drop in sales. That would have been the easiest and most conservative route. But instead, he prioritized his customers and not only decided to keep Autopilot, but also made a bold statement that he still fully believes in its effectiveness and original purpose: to improve safety. “The probability of having an accident is 50% lower if you have Autopilot on,” he said. “Even with our first version, it’s almost twice as good as a person.”

By staying true to his vision and putting users first, Tesla has (and will continue to) design products that change lives and grow their business.

The “Design Success = User Success” mindset can’t stop at the CEO or executive level, though. This commitment to the user experience needs to permeate throughout the entire organization so every person – from Product Owners to Engineers to Customer Support Representatives – are all focused on the same thing: the user. Together, they ensure their customers’ needs are being met at all times, which results in higher sales, higher satisfaction, and ultimately, long-term success.

Conduct Usability Testing Before, During, and After Development

When a personal trainer coaches clients through a weight loss “project,” they use a scale to objectively track progress and decide how to proceed. Usability testing serves the same role in design projects.

As we discussed in our two-part guide to usability testing, testing is a great way to move past differing opinions because it focuses on data, not personal preference. While many designers test their work after it’s completed, testing before, during and after development leads to the best results.

 

While many designers test their work after it’s completed, testing before, during and after development leads to the best results.

 

Without testing, everything is a hypothesis that invites subjective opinions about the outcome. Data removes the emotion, ensures the product is on the right track at every milestone and increases the likelihood of success.

Sometimes, even when you have good data from usability testing, team members disagree on what the data means or what to do with it. Ultimately, usability research should serve as a guide, not as a rule. It points you in the right direction 80% of the way, which will help you design a product that’s functional, usable and comfortable. But completing the final 20% and creating a product that’s delightful and meaningful requires taking risks or putting your own spin on it. You need a distinct point of view about how the experience should be, which no rulebook can teach.

Show, Don’t Tell

Humans learn best by doing. Instead of telling stakeholders and executives the right answers, show them how to find the answers themselves through design thinking exercises and workshops that encourage alignment.

 

Humans learn best by doing. Instead of telling stakeholders and executives the right answers, show them how to find the answers themselves through design thinking exercises and workshops that encourage alignment.

 

Exercises and workshops are some of the most effective tools for building consensus because they get people involved, uncover insights that may not come out in everyday conversation and make stakeholders feel more invested in product success.

Some of our team’s favorite exercises include:

  • Journey mapping: Map out each step of the user’s journey and how they interact with your product over time and across channels. This is an amazing exercise for identifying and prioritizing opportunities for improvement.
  • Empathy mapping: Design thinking starts with empathy. Empathy maps help teams better understand their users by brainstorming user feelings, influences, tasks, pain points and goals. Repeat this exercise for a typical user in each of your customer segments, then refer to the empathy maps as a resource for user-focused decision making and identifying jobs to be done.
  • Pair sketching: Pair sketching brings together at least two stakeholders (designer + another designer, developer, user, subject matter expert, client or other stakeholder) to join forces on a product sketch. This collaborative design approach makes it easy to share knowledge and iterate quickly to find the best solution.

Every UX Disagreement is an Opportunity

Getting pushback may seem like an obstacle, but it’s actually an opportunity to show your value. Whether you’re an in-house designer pitching a small idea to a skeptical crowd, or Elon Musk designing products that are changing the world, you’re bound to encounter someone who disagrees with you. It’s about how you overcome those hurdles that really counts.

With a “Design Success = User Success” mindset, an iterative process with multiple usability testing touchpoints and an arsenal of collaborative exercises, you’ll have the tools needed to be a seasoned designed thinker who brings stakeholders together and creates products that guide your users and your company to greatness.

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Ward Andrews

Ward Andrews is Founder at Drawbackwards, a UX Design Firm. He's worked for clients like Sony, Intel, IBM, Sophos, Insominac Games, and the NBA Phoenix Suns. Projects have appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Wall Street Journal, and other publications and broadcasts. He's a part of the Honors Faculty at Arizona State University teaching Design Entrepreneurship.