Making the right decision doesn’t have to be a trial by fire. Let’s look outside of UX to a place where there is a long-established skill set and model for determining truth that supports decision making and sets precedents. Where else is the truth sought using subjective and well-informed reasoning, supported by facts, amongst strong opinions in complex social and business contexts? What about referencing English law for insight on how project teams can collaborate to overcome the challenges and biases associated with participation of multiple roles and perspectives (see Figure 1)?
English law has been in existence since the twelfth century. It’s been exported to most Commonwealth countries, and remains part of United States’ law as well. The essence of English common law is that it is made by judges sitting in courts, applying their common sense and knowledge of legal precedent to the facts of the case in consideration. Sound familiar?
The New Product as the Plaintiff
The new design can be considered the plaintiff. It might be a proposed new landing page or a site redesign. It is the party that is bringing the challenge. The project itself is the proponent for comparing the existing design to the new design. If a ruling is made in favor of the plaintiff, this changes the status quo, sets numerous precedents in an organization, and commits resources.
The Existing or Competitor Product as the Defendant
In many cases the existing product is defending its incumbent position under challenge from the plaintiff. In competitive analysis it is the competitor product that is under scrutiny in the case. When considering competitors, it can be easier for the product team to dismiss them as less worthwhile, but when the team has already invested significant effort in their own plaintiff, their objectivity is compromised by their engagement with the new product.
The Product Manager as the Judge or Magistrate
The product manager executes the decisions that affect the product’s development and sets precedents using the evidence presented, or the verdict that has been reached. UX insight is a key source of this evidence in a customer-centric organization. Judges and product managers both have the discretion to set aside their jury’s verdict in certain circumstances.
Stakeholder Observers as the Jury
Unlike English law, UX jury selection should not involve the random element intended to ensure a range of society’s perspectives. The jury, at a usability or stakeholder review, should comprise a range of skills from the project team including, at a minimum, one User Interface (UI) designer and one business or systems analyst. This minimum requirement is necessary to avoid any bias toward a business or design perspective, or opinion related to observations and interpretations.
UX Observer/Notetaker as the Expert Witness
If the UX role in the observation room is confined solely to taking notes and does not extend to managing stakeholder observers, this person does little more than the job of the court reporter, the person who records all courtroom proceedings. Product development doesn’t normally afford days of deliberation following the study, so decision making requires optimization. Mentoring non-UX colleagues in the observation room, as expert witnesses bring expertise to a trial, maximizes the value you can obtain from every session by leveraging a process of sharing and discussing observations and viewpoints prior to a findings workshop, presentation, or report.
Participants as the Witnesses
Usability participants play a key role in evaluating the effectiveness of a design. They are like the witnesses who take the stand and tell the truth, but not always the whole truth. UX practitioners are well aware of the Hawthorne effect, incentive effects, and other biases that require us to critically consider the respondents’ feedback.
UX Facilitator as the Lawyer
Without the facilitation of a lawyer, many witnesses on the stand would be unable to sufficiently articulate relevant points in the time they are allotted. The facilitator is an expert at asking the right questions to elicit helpful and pointed feedback in a limited timeframe. At the close of proceedings and at key points throughout the trial, the lawyer sums up proceedings in key themes and recites the details that are most relevant to the case.
Applying a variety of perspectives from multi-disciplinary team members to projects generally produces a positive outcome, à la “We are greater than the sum of our parts.” Isn’t this the driver behind collaboration? However, when working with overlapping skill sets and personality types, it can be a challenge to achieve a good, working balance. Using English law and the structure of a courtroom as a metaphor, we can explore how the roles in the long-established practice of law provide a useful mental model for mentoring colleagues and enabling UX maturity, while seeking to maintain a collaborative balance in projects.
What’s your verdict?
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