We’ve all been there, presenting some work only to find somebody defending an alternative as it’s good UX, or best practice. Equally disheartening and difficult to deal with if you don’t know what it means.
It normally happens when somebody disagrees with your work but doesn’t know how to express it, and it’s your job to find out what they actually mean. Let’s have a look to some scenarios.
If the client is looking for good UX
A few years ago during a project’s conceptual design phase, it was clear that our work wasn’t ticking all the boxes of one of our senior stakeholders. He agreed with the key elements but something was missing. And one day he said it: “it needs more UX”.
We were puzzled, he opened a new tab and showed us a website with a 3D animation, where elements rotated as he moved the mouse. Suddenly all the meetings made sense, our flat designs were missing that feeling when you interact with a product, when you touch it.
Some people would have rolled their eyes and send the story to Clients from Hell. That’s wrong. He was not a designer, nor had to know how to articulate his concerns. He actually tried to use our language, so it was our job to understand what he really meant.
How to deal with more UX
Start acknowledging their concern and ask them to explain how their proposed solution meets their business or user goals. If the answer is not satisfactory, use the 5 why’s technique to identify the root cause. If needed, move them away from their solution and onto why your proposal is not working for them.
Once you understand what the root cause is, tell them that you’ll find a way to solve it. Ultimately, that’s why they are paying you.
When a developer proposes best practices
Similar to the client situation, although normally presented as “it’s best practice”. Often this behaviour is motivated by the differences between how design and development work. When you write code, you can argue that there’s a better way to solve a particular problem: more performant, cleaner, easier to maintain. In a nutshell: best practice. But there’s not a single or best way to solve a design.
So when they argue about design this usually boils down to what they feel comfortable with. Maybe they are more familiar with the Android/iOS/Facebook/etc. interface, and defend it as best practice.
Dealing with best practices
Again, ask how their solution meets user or business goals, why it’s better than your idea, discuss the merits of each proposal.
Remind them that there’s no such thing as best practice. Just because something works for Amazon/Twitter doesn’t mean it will work for you.
Although common UI patterns help users understand how to use your product, it doesn’t mean it’s the only way to solve it, or the most effective. Help them see the design from the users’ point of view.
When a designer gets defensive and argues that his design has better UX
One of the most important jobs of a designer is to articulate the reasons behind your design decisions. Meeting business and user goals is what separates design from art, so if the designer can’t explain the reasons behind a flow, layout or colour choice, they should go back to the drawing board and figure out why they did it.
[Design is] the intentional solution to a problem within a set of constraints.
How to deal with better UX
Even experienced designers can do this mistake, specially when they are not strong interaction designers. They have a solid intuition based on years of experience on other design disciplines, but they can’t rationalise it. Maybe they lacked the time, or they have a preference to a particular trend or operating system, applied without reason on a different context.
Common examples are iOS patterns used on Android, or websites that mimic a native app. This can lead to friction on many levels as developers struggle to code something that goes against the medium, and users see it as a spoof.
Challenge it, explain them why it doesn’t work, and let them come back with a better proposal.