Who Pays for Bad Design – Listening to the User

NewsDesigners bare a curse. It’s the curse of invisibility, well sort of. Most designers have to fight tooth and nail to get the resources they need. Then they are often relegated to obscurity. Until –

That is until there is a bad design. What defines a bad design can often be as ambiguous as what defines a good design. You can follow all the design principles you want and still end up with a bad design because the users don’t think it’s a good design. When it’s a bad design a designer hears all about it and the change to the design has to be near instantaneous.

The question, though, who really pays for bad design? Of course the designer gets flack for not magically knowing what should and shouldn’t be in the design, what it should and shouldn’t do, and so forth. The developer gets flack if the functionality doesn’t follow the design or breaks the design. The project leader / manager gets flack because they didn’t know the design was going to break. Well, you get the point. The things is, even with all the flack flying around these aren’t the people who are paying for the bad design. Users pay for bad design.

Users Pay for Bad Design

That’s right, it’s the users that pay. Doesn’t matter how much flack you get as the designer it’s the user that ultimately pays for you not being prepared for that certain something the user expected to see.

You see when you build a design you are more likely to build it for yourself than the user. This is a cardinal rule you should avoid breaking at all costs. Most times you are not going to have the same insight on what a user expects. Without that insight you can’t help but design for yourself.

Listening to the Users

In order to avoid bad design listen to the users. Individually they may not know what they want but collectively, and with some appropriate herding and prodding, you can identify trends in your data. These trends will get you pretty close to good design.

Getting the Users to Speak

No you don’t reward them with treats, actually – I’ve never tried that. If someone does let me know how it works. I know I wouldn’t mind a cookie for my input. I digress.

In the Trenches – Communicating Design
The easiest way to get users talking, if you are lucky enough to have direct contact, is to talk to the users in person and get their opinions. Watch how they are already performing tasks that your new design will be replacing and or augmenting. Get down in the trenches with them and see how they are likely to use the new design. The combination of shadowing them and actually communicating with them will yield excellent results.

Separated but not Alone – Usability Groups
You may not be fortunate enough to have direct contact with the users, this is pretty normal – sadly. If you do not have direct contact with the user then set up questionnaires, show them pictures and have them vote, give them access to limited versions of the design and have them use it and give you feed back. Do whatever it takes, within legal reason, to get them to give you feed back. Compile the feed back and use trends to identify the things that would lead to good design.

An Example – Title Source Mobile Website

Recently I finished phase 2 of the Title Source Mobile Website [currently not at a public release]. I completely redesigned the UI / UX of the mobile website. Phase 1 was functional but was not stylish and it had some platform compatibility issues. I revamped the UI, worked with a developer to revamp the UX and focused on a app style instead of a mobile website style. The feed back I got from remote testers drove the redesign. I was still concerned that I may not of made it self-educating enough.

Having the concern that the new Title Source Mobile Website UI wasn’t self-educating enough I decided to do a gallop poll – o.k., I really didn’t gallop around. The developers think I’m strange enough as it is.

What I did do was print out [yes, hard copy] the various screens and walk around and asked this one question “What are you supposed to do here?” On the screens where there was 100% understanding I left them alone. On the screens that didn’t have at least 95% understanding I refactored them and went to a different group of people and asked the same question.

That’s one of my methods. What is one of yours?


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