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I have been hearing and seeing "using best practices" as an alternative for not doing research and/or justifying tight deadlines imposed on UX practitioners. This excuse is used especially in agency/consulting settings.

My guess for what is meant by "best practices" could be established guidelines like Usability Heuristics and some other cognitive psychology phenomena.

How do you counter this argument when it is presented by designers or stakeholders?

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    Unfortunately even today UX is it not fully understood, accepted or matured in a lot of companies. It is our responsibility to be advocating for UX and fight to drive maturity in companies but sometimes it will not work because everything is tied together. Company selling cheap services to customers who themselves don't exactly understand what UX should deliver.
    – Chris
    Aug 18 at 6:29
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    ""using best practices" as an alternative for not doing research [ ...] How do you counter this argument when it is presented by designers or stakeholders?" - you could ask "best practice according to whom?". Practices age. Practices can be wrong to begin with, or at least partially so. How do your coworkers determine when a "best practice" applies or is valid to begin with?
    – CodeCaster
    Aug 19 at 15:01
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    It should be Best Practices AND User Research, they're not in conflict. As said, best practices aren't "guesses" - they're the summations of other people's research and experience that have proved useful in thousands of different contexts. Part of the skill of research is knowing when to use other people's work and when you need to do your own - sometimes it's as simple a not having access to users which decides. But you need to justify why you need original research given the vast difference in effort - e.g. are some particular users, tasks or data markedly different from the average and how?
    – mgraham
    Aug 21 at 16:02

4 Answers 4

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It's becoming more diffuse by the day.

I'll give you an example: the project we're working on right now is a mess. Literally a mess. There were (and are) some complaints, but the users got used to the system. Hence, the results of the user tests weren't as bad as expected.

So we ran usability heuristics and based on those heuristics (or "best practices" if you'll), we created an entirely new prototype. Then we tested again with users. This time, the results were almost perfect. We confronted them with their previous input, and they basically said, "We didn't know it could be done any other way."

This isn't to diss research; after all, we're a research company. My point is that "best practices" are best practices for a reason: They've been researched before. Extensively. Thousands of times. So if you compare a test with 3, 5, or 10 people to thousands or millions of tests, you'll get the same result in most cases. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't run tests at all. Personas and heuristic analysis are the least you need to do, as well as user flow and user journeys, even if you can't test them with real users.

And finally, "old school" research is... "old school." We test with AI and Big Data whenever possible, and the answers a person gives in a usability test don't necessarily match what they actually do when using the app or website. As a matter of fact, I can tell you that as an average and general rule, you'll have a deviation of around 20% in an ANOVA, which is a lot. In other words: if you have 50 features to test in a site, 10 of the "already tested and approved by users" features will actually be wrong.

As for your last question, I agree 100% with what Izquierdo said in her excellent response.

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    Very interesting to hear about the statistical difference on usability tests. Did the data for "what they actually do" come from web analytics? In usability tests, we not only listen what users say but also observe how users interact(aka what they do) with the interface when given a realistic task. Do you think the difference comes from Hawthorne Effect? Also, since usability test is one of the many UXR methods in our toolkit, I wonder if other methods that stem from design ethnography(old school), such as contextual inquiry, would yield similar results?
    – fury
    Aug 18 at 19:40
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    I'm intrigued to know if you have ever had the inverse experience? When a complex interface I use regularly gets redesigned the new interface may be an improvement in many ways, but it's still a great annoyance. Substantial previous knowledge of the layout, bugs and how to avoid them (all complex systems have them) and muscle memory won't transfer from the old system to the new one. Even the new visuals are a distraction. The changes might be improvements, but I'm not sure most users of the previous system like that it has changed at all.
    – Clumsy cat
    Aug 19 at 9:56
  • @fury we use different methods. We've one AI system developed in Python that we load with data from Google Optimize, Analytics, and Big Query for usability (i.e., what users actually do), and another for qualitative analysis. We can't automatically compare the results of the two systems, but we can take it back to "old school" if needed. Either way, it's basically a statistical analysis that could also be done with tools like SPSS, with the only difference being that we don't manually load the data.
    – Devin
    Aug 19 at 15:19
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    @Clumsycat yes, you're right, we've noted that many times. But the effect wears off over time, usually no more than two months, for "frequent users" it can be as little as a week as they train themselves in using the system.
    – Devin
    Aug 19 at 15:22
  • I would think that context is hugely important as well? Some best practices might not apply under specific circumstances of your product.
    – Vinko Vrsalovic
    Aug 20 at 7:33
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In low UX maturity organizations, tie user research to business metrics. Your products (hopefully) have business goals - client satisfaction scores, lowering calls to support, productivity metrics like completion times, conversion rates, customer retention rates, etc. Pick a problem that user experience can improve and measure the metrics before and after a redesign. Best practices can't account for everything - user feedback will be a part of this process.

After socializing the improvements' data, your stakeholders might start to get a taste it (they can take these improvements back to their leadership as a win) and start requesting more studies. Remember that building UX maturity takes a lot of time and leadership, and it doesn't happen overnight. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

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User research is the only gateway which gives most accurate output. But we as designers face this kind of situations most often for various reasons. I would say when you dont get a chance to do user research, all our designs are based on assumptions. Our assumption that this design will work based on our experience and best practices. So there is NO "Best Practices" vs. User Research...Its only "Assumption based design" vs. User Research

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  • Thank you for your reply. There are established design guidelines, rules and heuristics in UX just like other domains. What would be the best argument to point out that using those "best practices" are only guesses without research? At what point does using "best practices" have diminishing returns or lead us in the wrong design direction?
    – fury
    Aug 18 at 19:45
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I think @Devin brought up an important point that best practices have become best practices over the years of consistently proving themselves right. When it comes to users' context vs heuristics, I would add the quote from HCI Prof. Jeff Johnson:

"Design rules often describe goals rather than actions. They are purposefully very general to make them broadly applicable, but that means that their exact meaning and their applicability to specific design situations is open to interpretation. Complicating matters further, more than one rule will often seem applicable to a given design situation. In such cases, the applicable design rules often conflict, i.e., they suggest different designs. This requires designers to determine which competing design rule is more applicable to the given situation and should take precedence"

How do we understand the given context/situation without using different user research techniques, especially the exploratory ones?

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