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I'm working on a large project where I am a UX consultant. The company I am contracted with also consult a domain expert (DE) but she is not UX.

More than a few times now I have noticed her insisting on layout ideas despite them being unfavourably received by users. She claims this is what users want, but this is demonstrably false because I have the research data in front of me.

question: how do I communicate my position better and minimise the bias the DE is introducing? Have you had projects where one stakeholder carried too much influence? How did you resolve the issue? Did you resolve the issue?

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3 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

This can definitely be a delicate issue, and also one that I've encountered before.

It's all too tempting for everyone to want to jump in and suggest the design (and yes my DE does this all the time). Designing is fun, and who wouldn't want to help, right? How I've successfully deflected this individual's suggestions was by pointing out to the team (in the room, on the conference call, etc...) that we're not currently solving for the layout, but rather looking to understand the needs.

The best way to frame it up is to explain that your DE's role is to tell you the 'Why' you need to do something. Your role as consultant/designer/researcher is to go off and do iterations of research + design to come up with the 'how' you propose to solve this problem.

And to avoid any hurt feelings, I always go up to the DE in person and acknowledge their ideas, but emphasise that you're doing research to understand how you're going to solve the problem.

Bottom line, if that doesn't work... then show the DE the evidence from your research to assert/prove your point of view. Illustrating pain from the end user point of view helps me win every time.

Good luck!

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+1 for "Illustrating pain from the end user point of view helps me win every time". But what if the response is 'Yes but that's not representative of the sort of users we want to attract anyway'. (Rhetorical answers allowed :-) –  Roger Attrill Aug 4 '11 at 14:41
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+1 demonstrating exactly where she is wrong is cool, but needs to be done in a way that makes her look good. –  colmcq Aug 4 '11 at 14:52
    
@Roger Attrill, so it's pedantic Thursdays ;-) Fair point... but from my experience I remind the DE that he/she is the DE, not the user researcher. Kudos to her if she has created personas and/or has she done extensive research to understand the target market. –  Janel Aug 4 '11 at 16:16
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@colmcq I do this as an aside, because I don't want the team to go off following the DE's tangent. When she/he starts to jump into design issues, it's always great to put on your moderator's hat and acknowledge the idea and point out that you can look into it further with a subsequent design. By doing so you're not directly shooting down her idea, nor committing fully to implementing it. In doing so you're demonstrating that you're receptive to feedback. Then follow up separately if it seems necessary. It's helped me have a good relationship with my DE... especially as mine sits next to me! –  Janel Aug 4 '11 at 16:22
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So this is a large project which is good. The larger the project, the more alternative options have to be considered and the direction of progress be for a reason. I'm not saying small projects do not warrant consideration of several options, just that on a larger project the more options that are discarded, the more the final design feels validated and the client feels more they are being presented with the right result for the right reasons. It's their money after all.

Anyway, here's an incredibly generalized view of the process (forgive me!)

  1. consider more than one layout/design
  2. look at how each option solves particular needs/problems or what problems it introduces
  3. adjust/discard the design and iterate

So there is basically an audit trail - a reason at each point why you did something and why you did not do something.

Your DE has a perfectly valid input at the step 1.

At step 2, your ideas and the DE's ideas (and any other stakeholder input) gets considered, which is when you bring up the papers you have in front of you, and importantly your DE also gets to give their reasoning and input - and any papers she has in front of her (?).

If the DE is not UX as you say, then you should find that the DE's influence lies more on the side of input to step 2 and that you're influence lies on the side of output from step 2. If you are right, you should be able to explain why your output best solves the requirements of her input. Likewise the DE.

By step 3, the natural order of things should have directed you a bit further in the right direction, maybe with some of the DE's ideas, maybe not. Complete stalemate usually requires introduction of other people - maybe like the users themselves!

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we're at stage 2 and I am preparing 2 versions of an interface, one which incorporates her ideas and one which includes mine. The kicker with this project, and something I'm not at all happy about, is that she is responsible for presenting the wireframes to the users! This is, as they say, a major spanner in the works... –  colmcq Aug 4 '11 at 15:28
    
Is there a possibility that your concerns could be more specifically addressed via another question on ux se? eg: Best way to...'whatever'. without involving ownership of ideas or even the specific ideas themselves in the question details? At the moment we are dealing with generalizations and that may not be enough to actually help you. –  Roger Attrill Aug 4 '11 at 15:45
    
Can you request sitting on on the presentation to users as it's important from a UX perspective to see users first time engagement (or not!) in order to further improve the design - whichever way it goes. You can get a lot from observation that you cannot in a feedback report. It would benefit all sides, surely? –  Roger Attrill Aug 4 '11 at 15:48
    
would love to but they're in a different part of the country. And with regard to your previous comment, yes there will be a better question to pose but I'm still thinking about it. And thanks for your input BTW –  colmcq Aug 4 '11 at 15:50
    
"Maybe like the users themselves!"... Hear, hear... –  Marjan Venema Aug 5 '11 at 6:09
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The way I've used most sucessfully is acknowledging that an approach may help with one aspect, and promising to look into it, but then pointing out the large issue with it. Present it less as an example of applying rules to a system, but as if it were a puzzle. (because, well, it kind of is.) Showing the unintended consequences as you expect them to happen resolves the situation well. If the data backs you up, you can draw on that as well.

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