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Every time we start a new software project at my company, we will go to great lengths figuring out the best and most user friendly interface possible. We often have many reasons for the decisions we make and often they aren't many alternative layouts or designs that would offer support the same usability decisions.

Despite all of this, my manager will often ask me to come up with a number of options for the client (usually internal to the company) to choose from. In most cases i find this very difficult to do because we have already arrived at the best solution that we can come up with. It is not a matter of making sure we explore all of our options, because we do this. It seems as it is just a way of giving the client a choice for the sake of choice. I come from a graphic design background and am very familiar with providing multiple solutions for clients, but this seems different to me. In software we are concerning ourselves with controls and interactivity in addition to just visual layout, so there are often more reasons to stick to certain decisions.

How normal is it to offer multiple solutions to a client after doing research and making clear decisions based on usability and best practices?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Unfortunately it's very common to show customers more than one solution - at least where I live (Switzerland). I never liked this approach though. My thoughts:

  1. There's always the risk that the customer choses the "wrong" version. And it's hard to argue against it because they'll say: Why would you show it to us if you don't agree with it? And they'd be right.

  2. It shows lack of confidence and this increases the chance of long and unproductive discussions. You got hired because they think you know what you're doing and showing more than one solutions puts you in a wrong position ("we solve your challenges" vs. "we just suggest things, but in the end it's up to you").

But on the first project for a customer he doesn't know if you really are that good and he will probably challenge your solution to see if your work is solid. What I usually do to keep the discussion productive and focused is showing how you got to your solution. This can even go as far as showing stuff you tried and doesn't work - and tell/show them why it doesn't work.

Hope that helps, Phil

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I'm familiar with this aspect in design and I guess that there's not yet a real good explanation for this, but I'm going to have a go at it anyways.

If there are multiple "important" goals defined by your client, drawing/designing the results might rule out the few things you questioned.

Having multiple designs can strengthen the design you see fit, by clarifying the issues encountered by the other designs. You can always choose to "prefer" a specific design above the others and inform your client about this and why. In this way the other "less" designs, can be used as a supporting factor to build the client's preference for the actual "preferred" design. So making the flaws of the other designs can help in explaining things.

If your client is not convinced of your expertise on the explanations of the flaws, then try to find out what is making the client to choose the other design. Maybe adjusting the preferred design with the aspect that makes the flawed design more interesting to the client or offer a better solution with the preferred design to make the flawed one seem less again.

It's hard to determine how and what kind of relationship is possible between you and your client, but it's important you eventually get to the role that fits best. Giving your client several options at the start of a project, creates room for input from other parties in your project. In the end this will create confidence and trust.

If things still don't turn out the way you planned it and the flawed design is still preferred, be honest. Even if this creates some frustration at the beginning, it's better then ending up with a product you don't want to be known for and an unhappy client with unhappy users.

Hope this helps!

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Sounds unusual to me. When we show clients wireframes it is generally just to check they are happy with them. We may then incorporate any feedback but we wouldn't offer multiple options.

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This is an age old problem and not only present in UX but also graphic design and other creative fields.

To overcome this for UI design recently I've been asking my design team to produce one option each - their best take on solving the problem in question. Yes we get very similar 'solutions' all however have slight twists that make them individual.

Fortunately our clients have strong visual guidelines in place and I'd expect working in house (I think you do) you do to. It then becomes a question of selecting a solution rather than running the risk of having to proceed with a less than effective option that was knocked up quickly to show how much work you have 'done'.

Another approach to documenting the UX could be to outline all the behavioural states that each component requires to deliver the solution in a successful manor. By this I mean representing navigational states, steps in a process and the like. Taking this approach make it harder to select an inappropriate option as it places the feature in context of what it aims to support the user in doing.

This follows the concept of modular web design and I suggest looking at http://unify.eightshapes.com/. Design deliverable in this format not only help sell your ideas now but when it comes to moving on in your career helps tremendously in explaining your thought process to others.

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