The Mythical User

Taking the mystery out of User-Centered Design

How to manage stakeholder feedback

on 30 September, 2008

One of the hardest parts of a UE person’s job is to reconcile the needs and priorities of users with the differing needs and priorities of internal departments. Inevitably, you’ll get great feedback that either doesn’t work because it conflicts with someone else’s, or because it doesn’t take all factors into account. Inevitably, you’re going to have to tell someone “Thanks but no thanks.”

Realistically, this is why we’re paid what we are.  It’s not because we have design school degrees or can write three languages by hand.  It’s because we take the pressures from all concerned parties and turn them into the best realistic solution.  It’s like being the rope in a multi-dimensional game of tug-of-war.

Sometimes, that means choosing the lesser of two evils.   Every designer has at least one story of where they had to throw band-aids all over a terrible situation with no time, no user testing, and without the buy in of half the stakeholders.

Today, I heard a stakeholder say, “Why are you asking for my input if you’re not going to listen to it?”

His frustration is universal.  It’s the same way I feel when my daughter asks “blue or purple?” and then chooses the opposite of what I answer.  Why waste my time?

There’s a good answer to this question, though, and it’s worth your time to explain.

Good user experience can’t happen in a vacuum.  It also can’t happen by committee.  If you’re worth your salt as a UE person, you absolutely must take the time to gather every viewpoint and perspective you possibly can.  However, if you implemented every suggestion that was made to you, not only would NO ONE be happy with the result, your product would be an unusable hodge-podge.  (Believe me, I’m tempted to make a mockup with everyone’s suggestions someday, just to let them see what the alternative is!)  Someone has to mediate.  And at the end of the day, that Someone who has to weigh all the information and make a choice, is you.

So if a stakeholder ever expresses this frustration, here’s what you need to do:

  • Tell them you understand how they feel.
  • Tell them you ask for their feedback because it’s both good and important.
  • Remind them of times in the past when you’ve acted on their feedback.
  • Explain that you have to weigh everyone’s feedback, and this time you had to make a tradeoff that they didn’t win, but next time they might.

This is the worst part of our job; thanking people for feedback we can’t act on.  But it’s also the best, because it builds a relationship of honesty and trust between you and your stakeholders.  Remember that they’re as invested in your product as you are, and you’ll all get through, just fine.


Today’s Glossary Term:
Ubicomp – Ubiquitous computing.  This term describes the phenomenon that we and our users experience every day – every aspect of our lives is becoming computerized.  There are computers in our watches, our cars, our refrigerators.  We are living at the birth of the Era of Ubicomp.

Today’s Interesting Link:
http://www.yellowpagesgoesgreen.org/index.html – This site is a prime example of a great idea with a suboptimal UI.  The main purpose of the site is lost in all of the clutter.  It’s attractive, it’s modular, it’s organized – but there’s no hierarchy at all.  I suspect that no one told the designer what was highest priority on this page.

Today’s Usability Quote:
“You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not please all of the people all of the time.” – Krys Taylor, revising Abraham Lincoln

Today’s Music To Design To:
Sparky’s Flaw is a relative newcomer to the music scene, but they’ve got charm and talent in spades.  Their music is a fresh style of rock, and their lyrics are both endearing and thought-provoking.  Their tunes are catchy enough that you’ll find yourself tapping your foot even if you’re only listening in the background.
Download the MP3s

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