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Finding The Sweet Spot : Comments

By D. Keith Robinson

December 1, 2004


Joshua Porter

December 2, 2004 4:41 AM

Hey Keith, thanks for the great article. I really like how you dovetailed business goals and user goals together:

Organizational goals as you’ve defined them are the REAL challenge here. Not only do the usability/design arguments happen because of them, but any arguments happen because of them. When interpersonal issues are sorted out (or ignored), there is barely a design team in the world who can’t come up with an awesome design, because the user goals and business goals are simply what’s left to address. At that point, the techniques you mentioned to align business and users goals are great ways to move forward.

Showing value, as you mentioned, is the other big challenge. Since the highest priority for most is profit, whatever can contribute to that is the only thing stakeholders care about. On that note, evaluative techniques, like usability testing, are never necessary to implement anything. By definition, creative techniques (design) are the only things necessary for implementing something. Measuring things and evaluation over time are relatively novel, unused ideas that seem foreign to some, especially those used to marketing campaigns and branding strategies, which tend to reinvent the wheel every time.

This reminds me of the discussion going on right now about Microsoft improving web standards support on their browsers. What MS wants to say is that it makes no economic sense for them to upgrade their support for standards, and that it would be a blow to their proprietary handles that some people code to (VBscript). What they’re forced into saying is that it’s simply too hard to do, or that it would break stuff. Once it makes economic sense for them (perhaps a growing Firefox market share will force the issue), they’ll change. (It’s the same with focusing on user goals) But they are like any company that has been around for more than a year or two: they don’t do things because they are the right things to do, they do things because they are the most profitable.

Nick Finck

December 2, 2004 7:39 AM

Interesting points, Joshua. At my job we actually do use evaluative techniques on both a quantative and qualatative level to help feed profitability. We are able to see the idea of usability testing and web analytics to the client by showing them how it can effect the bottom line for their online revenue. Converse was an amazing example of what is possible in this realm. Right now the only trouble we are having is trying to meet the demand for such services.


December 2, 2004 8:35 AM

Joshua — Yes, organizational goals are usually the biggest challange. In fact, I’m not sure they’re always goals, rather they can be restrictions or challanges to overcome.

When it comes to showing value, much like what Nick is doing, at my job we’re starting to try and do this as well. Along with the idea of proving value goes the need to communicate that proof.

I’m hoping to take this message far from the Web design world and put it, in another form, in front of stakeholders so that they can begin to understand that value.

I encourage anyone reading this to do the same, and share your ideas, successes and struggles.

Joshua Porter

December 2, 2004 8:35 AM

Nick, that’s a interesting case study. I’m interested in knowing more about the techniques you use to show stakeholders that these things can affect the bottom line. That seems to be a major hurdle in the industry right now. I know a lot of folks struggling with this. It’s not that we don’t know what the process might be, but that it’s very hard to articulate well (and to justify evaluative techniques before a project starts).

Does your experience suggest that certain techniques to show effectiveness work better than others?

Jason Stirk

December 2, 2004 9:02 AM

Awesome article Keith.

I particularly like the idea of examining a project as a triangle – often business goals not only oppose usability, but compete for those precious dwindling resources!

Personally, I tend to find that business goals tend to keep getting shifted by the powers-that-be a lot more often than usability requests, until resources run out.

Of course, this is partially a problem of scope creep, but I think that the problem also comes that many in management positions don’t fully understand the importance of usability.

The triangle metaphor is one that I will endeavour to use more in the future to help get this idea across and not letting any aspect slide too far out of balance.

Organizational goals seem to be the most static of the three – perhaps the simplest “side” to get to a state which benefits both business and usability?

Great article though. Thanks!


December 2, 2004 9:58 AM

This article is spot on. After the last two articles about paradigm shifts and visionary evangelizing it’s nice to get a big picture article with two feet planted firmly in reality.

This mirrors my thought processes exactly as I communicate with different members of my team about web design decisions. You have to communicate with people on their level. Almost everyone has good ideas, so a successful web project leader needs to frame conversations in terms of what the various parties agendas are.

Good leadership will give you their goals only, and trust you as the creative staff to make it happen as effectively as possible. In return it is your job to listen to the goals and selflessly implement the best solution, even if doesn’t stroke the designer’s ego or offer the opportunity to quench your quest for personal innovative fulfillment.

Of course, the reality is that many people in leadership positions are viciously clawing their way to the top or perhaps are insecure about their leadership ability and thus fall into the trap of micromanagement or making ridiculously impractical dictums to their staff in order to appear more leaderly. On the flip side you have creative staff that either lack the talent, knowledge and understanding to address business goals, or are simply too self-absorbed to really work for the company instead of themselves.

It’s definitely a minefield, but I am reminded of a slogan from a dying African child I heard on MPR the other day “Do all you can with what you have in the time you have in the place you are.”

Nick Finck

December 2, 2004 10:13 AM

Joshua: Sure, I’d be happy togive you some more details. But let’s take it offline as it’s kind off the central focus of Keith’s article here.


December 2, 2004 2:10 PM

Very sharp wrap-up of the situation. I’m sending it straight to my boss.

One thing I find particularly hard however is helplessly watching our marketing dept work the old-school way, trying to coax the user into doing what the company wants them to do instead of taking advantage of what the user already wants to do with the company. Kind of reminds me of judo, where you use your opponent’s strength and momentum instead of your own. Really, making my company’s focus move from itself to its customers feels like an uphill battle — a patient who doesn’t want to be cured. Demonstrating bottom-line results still hardly helps.

As you say, we

Jess McMullin

December 2, 2004 2:20 PM

Great article Keith – a much more measured response to thoughts that one discipline or another should be ascendant. I’d say that your ‘organizational goals’ are more like context, or constraints, than goals…but we don’t want to mess with the triangle model ;-)

For people who enjoy this sort of thing, Jeff Lash wrote a great article for Digital Web covering similar ideas of reconciling business and user goals.
A User Centered Approach to Selling IA

Henrik Olsen talks about the importance of understanding business to do good design in
Business-centered Design

And I talked about value-centered design over at Boxes and Arrows last year, which tackles the same issues from a slightly different angle.


December 3, 2004 9:53 AM

Interesting enough to make me rethink a new approach to several areas you covered. Nicely done. Thanks for the insights.

Robert Nemec

December 18, 2004 1:29 PM

There is no gap between business and users. Business wants to convert users into customers. Users want to fullfill their needs. Business offers fullfilling of these needs. Where do you see a gap?

Lance Shields

January 6, 2005 2:16 AM

Thanks for the great article, Keith.

A very good response to Dirk’s article The End of Usability Culture. I really enjoyed everyone’s comments so far and everyone seems to be in agreement. The triangle metaphor makes for a great starting point for discussion and a way of isolating each party’s needs.

That said, being on the visual/brand side of things I couldn’t help feeling that saying the users’ goals had solely to do with usability was a bit one-sided. Of course it depends on the kind of site we’re talking about, but wouldn’t you say that users care about the brand and visual experience as well as being able to satisfy navigational and task based needs. I do understand your point about companies ramming their brand down users’ throats. However, like usability if user testing is used for brand and visual design we should be able to communicate what sort of brand experience their customers are after.

User focused design is everyone’s job. So to fix those organizational issues Keith so rightly brought up, I feel we need to do more than tell designers follow the agenda. IAs and designers, while being perfect sparring partners, should be the best of friends as we collaborate on user-focused experiences that in turn must satisfy business goals.

Currently working in Tokyo, I’ve come to realize that companies here, being very business driven, are behind the US in understanding how the user’s goals must be met on all levels. All of your insights will be useful in trying to convert my clients.

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