How to Make Tradeoffs in UX for the Best User Outcomes


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It’s not rocket science — developing products people need or want is the first step to creating something that will impact the bottom line. The hard part is ensuring the product maximizes the benefit to both customer and company. 

The ultimate goal is a user experience (UX) that connects customers with your business. Ninety percent of online shoppers will drop a website and never return after a bad user experience. What’s more, the ROI of UX is 9,900%. Your business can’t afford “bad UX.”

Even so, there are reasons why a product might launch a known sub-optimal user experience, such as time constraints or cost restrictions. There are three possible responses to a design change in these moments: agree with it, let it go or push back. Each option has general principles for reaching the best possible outcome.

Agree With a Customer-Centric Design Change

In the best-case scenario, you agree with a proposed design change. While there might not have been a problem with the initial design, you may develop a deeper understanding of potential constraints that informs your decision. These constraints could be technical, financial or related to the target market. Conversely, the design change might enable the user to get additional value that wasn’t originally considered.

As long as the business and user benefit from the change, agreeing to it is a no-brainer. The business benefits when there are time and/or money savings or improves morale among the engineering team. In cases when a decision is a win-win, you shouldn’t just agree with the change — you should become an advocate for it.

The most obvious and necessary tip is to ensure you’re advocating for the users because they won’t be involved in engineering discussions to advocate for themselves. If the business benefits from a new design or design feature, but the user doesn’t benefit, you shouldn’t implement it. Change alone carries a cost to your most loyal customers, and you need to honor that.

Practice Pragmatism and Let it Go

Occasionally, a “worse“ (less than ideal) design will benefit the user base as a whole. For example, a luxury sports car has a better design than a basic sedan. However, the sacrifices it would take to own the sports car far outweigh the benefit of a better design.

A feature or design that requires raising prices beyond the threshold of affordability or perceived value can undermine the value proposition entirely. Is this an improvement? Cost is part of the value equation, so being cognizant of the value versus price perception is critical. Users don’t benefit from products they decide they cannot afford to do the job they are “hiring” it to do.

This calculus cuts the other way as well. If you can capture half the users at twice the price, your support costs could go down significantly and possibly capture the high end of a market. As much as we talk about the top line, the bottom line is where investors make their money. Understanding the business thesis behind your company’s strategy is critical in making the right call here. The most evolved product leaders will also consider timing carefully when contemplating new features.

Said another way, your goal is not to create the “best product,” but rather to create the optimal product that serves customers while benefiting the business. This is the essence of pragmatism. Your legacy is the mark you leave on the business you are serving. Ensuring you don’t overserve any single constituency is the mark of the best product leaders. You are bound to have your own feelings about a feature, which only underscores the value of “product wisdom” — an awareness of your own emotions and a return to optimal product calculus. 

Stand Your Ground and Push Back

There are times when it’s best to hold firm and go against the grain. If there is no proven user benefit from a proposed feature or design change, you need to defend them. However, pushing back requires careful considerations, including:

  • Resources: Pushing back takes time and energy while introducing varying amounts of professional or personal friction within a team. Using these resources shouldn’t be done lightly.
  • Teammates: Take colleagues’ opinions and reasoning into consideration. Give them the benefit of the doubt when they want to make adjustments.
  • Know when to give up: User advocacy doesn’t equal stubbornness. Strategically choose your battles and know when to accept defeat. Even if you’re right, you won’t always win — know when to relent. Losing can have value in the long run. Showing you want to “get it right” more than you want to “be right” will create opportunities for ownership among your colleagues. That commitment will pay dividends.
  • Respect and trust: Pushing back requires a level of earned, established and mutual trust and respect amongst your colleagues. You shouldn’t expect to be able to put up a fight on your first day on the job.

Once you’ve considered these factors and options, understanding the risks and potential consequences of pushing back, you’re ready to launch your counterargument. Design deserves consideration within an organization, enabling you to push back when it’s the right thing to do. Healthy organizations will encourage employees to convene and discuss tradeoffs to find the best solution — even if that requires varying degrees of debate. Products are a bundle of hypotheses. Injecting humility increases your chances of getting more right than wrong. 

Remember not to let feelings dominate decision-making. Designers and craftspeople take great pride in their work, but that can’t interfere with what’s best for the organization and its users. Considering these options from the lens of user advocacy and business strategy is how you, your organization and your customers will ultimately succeed.

Simply put, when customers choose between two products that offer similar value, they’ll select the product with the overall better value proposition that is apparent to them sooner. The business that puts its customers first will come out on top every time.


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