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Oct 25, 2010: Design is the easy part; lying and deceiving are the fun part

Design (of all flavors) really is the easy part. Getting organizations to actually act upon design recommendations? Another story entirely.

It's the story everywhere I go. In the past two weeks, for example: sitting in on Ginny Redish's workshop, discussing it with Steve Krug, talking with my own workshop attendees, working on-site with a client's team... really, anywhere there's more than one designer in the room, you know this frustrating subject will come up.

How does one get an organization design-ready? We usually start by trying to change senior leaders' perspectives in two ways: by making a case with data, and by telling a story. No doubt, both approaches are worthy and worthwhile. But there's something else that we either are uncomfortable acknowledging or simply afraid to pursue: lying and deceiving.

For example, I regularly counsel the teams I work with to look for opportunities to "pin down" problematic leaders in areas that are just not all that important. Like the site's main page. OK, it really is an important page, but there are many other aspects of a site that also merit attention. If leaders are going to battle over shreds of main page real estate, let them. That'll make it possible for everyone else to move on to the other important design challenges that need to get dealt with. This may not qualify as a lie, but it's certainly deceptive.

So, two questions for you, dear readers:

  1. Why aren't we sneakier? We won't we lie and deceive when the means clearly justify the ends? Are we overly ethical? Is it a character flaw? Or a problem with our education? (Or maybe I'm full of crap?)
  2. If you do practice the dark art of deception, care to share an anecdote with your fellow devotees?

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Comment: Lorelei Brown (Oct 25, 2010)

Of course this is what you do - one of my ex-bosses and mentors called it 'fire hydranting' - put something large and really unimportant in the design, and let them argue about it, then support the user everywhere else.

Comment: Ian (Oct 25, 2010)

I'm sure we've all been in a situation where a client with no design expertise has told us how to design a user interface, i.e. 'use a checkbox and put it here'.

In previous instances where such direction would have had a detrimental effect on the end result, I have moved the functionality elsewhere or implemented it differently so their original request can no longer be implemented. is that the sort of cunning you mean?

Comment: Lou (Oct 26, 2010)

Yes, really any sort of cunning. I like both examples--and especially the term "fire hydranting".

Comment: Jess McMullin (Oct 26, 2010)

This sounds like you've been hanging out with Peter Morville!

Setting up a big juicy target that won't tank the project could be a good option in highly political orgs with tight timelines. If you have longer, I'm more comfortable building influence in the org by connecting with people and understanding them and their agendas.

I'm a fan of the longer term approach not just because I'm not as sneaky/talented as others. It's because long-term success & satisfaction are harder to find on a foundation of sneak vs. real connections in the org plus your own humility to authentically understand other people's perspectives about what matters.

Many (most?) UX peeps don't have very good business fluency or empathy. For more of my thoughts there, check the IA Summit 2010 talks I gave on designing influence & on thinking like a CEO. http://bit.ly/d62puM

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