Unashamedly click-baity title? Guilty as charged 🙂
Anyway, this blog post is about the nuance of implementing the results of UX research techniques - the example I'll use is an interesting interaction I had with the owner of a boutique web development company recently, which I think illustrates the concept quite nicely.
For context, we were both attending an Information Architecture course and had both been assigned to a small team to perform a quick exercise - we'd been tasked with building a mock site navigation based on some mock user research we'd just completed (a classic card-sorting exercise). Clearly, the objective of the exercise was to build a high quality site navigation structure (from a UX point of view) that was based on the evidence provided to us directly by users. Interestingly, Bob (let's call him Bob) wasn't really having any of it - he immediately wanted to deprioritise some of the findings from our mock users and make a few changes to the mock nav, based upon his interpretation of the mock client's needs as expressed in a mock business case outline we'd been given. OK, I'll stop writing 'mock' now.
Immediately it was apparent that some people felt that Bob was clearly in the wrong and that we should have been focusing exclusively on using the user research data to prepare our first cut of the navigation. After all, went the cry - isn't the whole concept of User-Centric Design there precisely to combat precisely what Bob was proposing: subjective decisions being made without any scientific, user-based evidence to support them? It is. So why are we even talking about Bob and his ludicrous suggestions? Well, let's take a closer look at what Bob was trying to say...
Obviously I'm paraphrasing here, but Bob’s viewpoint can probably be boiled down to the following statements:
- "User desires and business goals don't always align. My client will sometimes want to promote X Y and Z in their IA/navigation, regardless of what their users say. "
- "As the the technical partner charged with delivering their business-critical website, they're trusting me to use my commercial experience as well as my technical knowledge to help them make the right decisions."
- "If I only service user needs, and don't take into account business goals, my client won't be pleased. If I'm not pleasing my client, I won't get more work from them.
- "If my client is happy, they'll keep giving me work, and this is what in turn will make my web development company successful, allowing me to pay my bills and staff wages."
I'll cut to the chase here - in my opinion, Bob's right. I mean, he was totally wrong to surface this in a UX training/classroom environment with a bunch of strangers who were just trying to learn a bit about Information Architecture but ultimately, back in the real world, he is on the right track.
We can be as evangelical as we like about the scientific nature of UX (which is of course, on the whole, a supremely positive influence on the tech industry!) but we shouldn't be blinkered to the idea that pure user research always produces the best results.
Sometimes user research can produce artefacts that just aren't compatible with a business' goals (or as compatible as an alternative). I'm a a believer that if we push too hard on the user-centric side without giving enough consideration to the commercial and technical sides, then we're not really being very good technology consultants.
Think of it this way: if creating great Information Architecture was simply a case of cornering a bunch of users, subjecting them to a series of card sorting and tree testing routines and then scientifically applying the results, then much of the process could be automated without a lot of effort. To me, what makes an experienced dev house/consultant/PO valuable is the ability to see the nuance and know which parts of their UX research should be applied and which shouldn't.
For clarity, I'm not saying at all that the application of good UX research is something we shouldn't be recommending to customers (how's that for clarity 🙂 ). A well-prepared client should be fully expecting to see how the Information Architecture of their site has been mapped using user research techniques, and they should be keen to implement it - if not fully, then at least to a high degree.
As technology consultants, I think it's up to us to sometimes remind people that User-Centric Design isn't so popular because it's an altruistic movement which aims to improve human lives and reduce the scourge of frustrating user experiences (although it's obviously great that it does that). It's also popular because it's usually commercially effective. Engaged users engage more. However, for me anyway, commercial experience and technical knowledge (which are two of the key benefits that a client is paying for when they engage with a consultancy) must also play a part in shaping the implementation of the research output.
Feel free to voice your own opinion in the comments section 🙂
Getting the balance right. As is so often the case when talking about DX solutions, this post is really about balance - in this case, balancing the needs of the user with the goals of the business. Like physical balance, it's a skill that we have an innate ability for (some more so than others), while at the same time being a skill that can be greatly improved through practice and experience.
Don't be that guy. Having observed Bob, and how oblivious he was to the fact that the training course we were on wasn't really about ensuring the commercial success of our make-believe client, I felt the need to ask whether I've ever been that guy. I hope not, but anyway - note to self: don't be that guy 🙂