UI Design is Like a Battlefield
November 21, 2011
Some have said that love is like a battlefield. That‘s because in any relationship each party has heartfelt priorities and demands that they may consider non-negotiable. That gives us a glimpse into why application design sessions become so difficult – each stakeholder within a client organization is passionate about what they believe their needs to be and soon the participants in the design exercise find themselves embattled.
One thing, that these stakeholders forget, however, is that they are not the ones in the relationship.
The relationship is really between their organization and the user.
We’re aware of unfortunate relationships between an aggressive partner and a passive one (or in this case, a non-present one) where priorities are ignored. Sometimes priorities are never heard at all – and one party’s needs get steamrolled.
This is where a User Experience Architect is necessary – to act as a user advocate.
A recent design session at a key client was a reminder of this relationship battlefield. As the stakeholders brought changes and demands they argued over placement and vision. Secret desires came forward, adding elements that defied available space. As we poured over the wireframes – the diagram of the battlefield – the debate raged over how to accommodate one key element. The wireframe provided the forum to arrive at a consensus to propose a hover feature that satisfied all parties while keeping other features undisturbed – features that would be cherished by the user. The initial review session ended with a feeling of progress.
But there’s more to consider here. I once heard a saying, “the most effective consultant is the one who looks both ways before crossing – even a one-way street.” That’s the consultant I strive to be while guiding a design that works for the intended user population. Although the stakeholders had agreed to use this feature, how would the user even know that the hover feature was there?
As I altered the wireframes, I took the liberty of amending them to incorporate a visual queue from conventional Web browsing behavior to provide an alert to the presence of the hover feature.
I made deliberate mention of the amendment through annotations and distributed the document back to the stakeholders. That little annotation spurred new thought and commentary, which was the desired outcome since each feature fits within a larger process and concerns about a single feature will impact the entire interface and ultimately the overall project. The outcome of this guided collaboration enabled a more usable, considerate design.
The wireframe process is sometimes skipped because the perception is that battles and design reiterations can slow the project down. However, as an interface is built without these deliberations there’s no ability to make corrections without throwing away code and valuable time. The wireframe is a blueprint, and without it your site construction may lack fidelity.
Which, as we know, can strain your relationship.