When you seek to improve a bad design, how do you get enough buy-in from stakeholders and users to "rip the band aid off", or is incremental improvement usually the only way to get enough buy-in?

Or asked another way, how much change can people appreciate?

An Analogy

This reminds me of a story that a very experienced designer in our office related to me. It goes like this.

There are three types of music performance lovers. When they attend a live performance of music, each of them appreciates a certain level of change or improvisation to the original, well-known piece. The first type, we'll call them the classical music gurus, want to hear their pieces performed almost identical to the original. It is important to them. The second type appreciates a little more change from the original - they feel it adds interest. The third type, we'll call them the jazz gurus, appreciate the most change and improvisation. They love change and find it vital to a successful performance. However, when people studied how much change this third group really could handle and still appreciate the performance, they found that this third group could only handle about a 50% change from the original piece before even they started to dislike the new version. So even those that claimed to love change still needed one foot firmly planted in the old version to enjoy it as a new version of the original.

What are your tips for overcoming resistance to design change?

  • Zero, unless you can prove that the change improves the experience functionally for users and prove that there will be a monetary gain for stakeholders.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 19:00

1 Answer 1


My experience is with a range of complex applications needing a significant UX rework. The corporate UX strategy group concluded that our users give us a large degree of latitude for change providing that the quality of UX work is very high.

To understand this better, consider the reasons for resistance:

  • Changes in the way system operates

    • Creates loss of expertise. If a user has to re-learn a system not only is the learning curve resented, but status as "power-user" can feel threatened. In particular there is high resistance to changes that requires retraining.

    • Is legislated change. If user is aware that you have made intelligent changes to meet enforced requirements, acceptance is excellent.

  • Loss of efficiency. If you remove obscure but effective short-cuts, then you may accidentally sabotage a users workflow adding time and effort onto their task. This is tolerated when a different but better approach is introduced in a discoverable manner.

  • Aesthetic change. Tolerance here is dependant on ability to rapidly identify if the "New Look" has impacted their efficiency or expertise. Assuming they can find UI landmarks for interaction quickly, then aesthetics may garner opinions - but not affect usability scores. If they cant recognise their navigation or interaction elements then this creates impacts by the first two points above.

  • Poor change management. Changes that users are informed about will be tolerated considerably better than unexpected changes "discovered" by the user, regardless of the scope of the change.

Unlike music which is pretty much purely aesthetic, UX has real impacts as well. Even the visuals can have real impacts.

  • Thanks - there is some good info here regarding reasons for resistance. Do you have tips regarding how to get stakeholder buy-in for a "rip the band aid off" design change before the change has been agreed upon (besides the obvious of just selling them on how it is better)? Sometimes peoples' minds are closed due to the degree of change proposed, even if the change provides better UX and things like proper change management would be handled if and when the change would be implemented. I think the opening of peoples' minds to the change is at the heart of the question. Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 21:34
  • Most pervasive argument is to sit with stakeholder and watch the user in action with new UI (even just a partial prototype). If it's good the users response will convince the stakeholder. Problem is that at least some investment needs to go in. Another approach is a project where there was a completely new skin, we kept old UI available as an option - a "safety fallback" if you like (just as Google did with recent Maps & Apps updates) so the stakeholder can delight new users and not discommode resistant to change users. Migration to new UI was very fast :)
    – Jason A.
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 9:19

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