The best design is the one that goes live

A UX designer, a product manager and an engineer walked into a bar…

Product Manager – As a user I want to get drunk really fast.

UX Designer – Research shows that having tequila shots with lemon and salt gets you drunk fast. And if you have it with friends, it creates a sense of camaraderie and social connection enhancing the overall experience.

Product Manager – That sounds great! But we don’t have budget for tequila, can we use water instead? But using the salt and lemon is a great idea!! Maybe we can also add a small umbrella to delight the users.

Engineer – We don’t have a shot glass. However, we have modified a whiskey glass to hold 1 shot. But if you add any more or less than 1 shot of tequila, the glass will break.

Bartender – SCRUM you idiots before I throw you off the waterfall…

…if you have ever been part of a team, a squad, a pod or a pool that works in an Agile fashion then you probably get this joke. The product manager wants a quick solution, the designer suggests an elaborate one, the budget-constrained manager compromises, and the engineer points out practical challenges.

Designing is often the easiest part of a project; the real challenge lies in bringing that design to life.

As a UX consultant, I get to work on a wide variety of products and teams across various industries, countries, and culture. Every venture brings its own distinctive flavor, and it’s fascinating how no two teams, even within the same domain, country, or company, are alike.

The main reason for creating a cross-functional team is to increase efficiency and avoid rework. Everyone in the team brings along their unique perspectives and insights which have formed over several years of experience and we want to leverage that to create a best-in-class product. But most of the time the opposite happens, and disagreements cause delays and often sub-standard products.

But why is there a difference in opinion?

I decided to get into the root of the problem and realized that it could be because…

  • The product manager thinks they are the voice of the business and believe that revenue is the driving force and without revenue generation a product is worthless.
  • The designer thinks their team is the voice of the users and believe that without design led by user research and user goals, the product will have friction and may not be able to keep or attract users.
  • The engineer thinks they are the voice of what can be built and believe that without their technology your best ideas are still just ideas.

I understand all their perspective and why each team believes their perspective matters the most. But creating a product based on one team’s point of view over the others causes an imbalance.

Think of these 3 teams as 3 legs of 3-legged stool. If any one team decides to call the shots, that leg will become bigger, and the product will be lopsided.

Let’s see some real-life examples:

Yahoo! – a fully functional search engine before Google was born, but it failed. Why? Instead of focusing on providing a quality user experience, the business decided to have extensive advertisements to generate revenue, which not only ruined the user experience, but it also slowed the website. Had the UX and tech team pushed back, then Yahoo might have prevented the ascent of Google.

Ola Scooter – a beautifully designed electric scooter but it’s struggling to sell. Why? A fault in Ola Electric’s battery cells and battery management system, causes it to catch fire. Had the engineers given enough time maybe this could have been avoided.

Apple Maps iOS 6 – was intended to be user-friendly with a clean, simple interface and integration with Siri for voice-guided navigation. However, a rushed development borne from Steve Jobs resentment with google caused a lot of tech issues. It was widely criticized for its lack of accuracy and reliability. Had the engineering team got enough time to work on the issues it wouldn’t have failed as miserably. The development was so rushed that they didn’t even realize that the app icon is telling you to jump off a bridge.

Google Glass – the tech was on point and functionally also wasn’t that bad, it was going to be the future of Human Computer Interaction, but it still failed. Why? Because it made the people around the user feel uncomfortable. A simple user research would have given them the right insights. Most companies think being first in the market will give them the lead, so they quickly put together an MVP without proper research and testing.

So there needs to be a balance. Right?

Yes, to create a working product there needs to be a balance but to create a best-in-class experience you need something more, you need a bit of healthy tension. You need to push each other’s limits.

Consider a top-performing Olympic sailing team. In order to propel the boat forward, the team must exert tension on the sail to harness the wind. However, if the wind is excessively strong or if one team member pulls too forcefully, there is a risk of the sail tearing.

In essence, the success of the Olympic sailing team hinges on the delicate balance of applying tension to the sail. Tension becomes the crucial force that propels the boat forward, harnessing the power of the wind to navigate the waters effectively. The team’s ability to skillfully manage this tension not only ensures forward momentum but also plays a pivotal role in securing victory. In the intricate dance of wind, sail, and team coordination, tension emerges as the linchpin for triumph, illustrating how precise control can lead to the ultimate achievement.

Any run-of-the-mill design company can copy + paste and churn out 10,000+ screens (1 to n) but it takes an expert strategic UX partner who dives deep to understand not just the user goals but also the tech feasibility and business goals to then push the limits and create something truly innovative (0 to 1).

Yes, everyone talks about balance and it’s more philosophical than practical. You not only need to understand your team members but also push them. Sounds too good to be true. Right? Let’s look at some real-world examples where the tension between the teams probably pushed them to achieve more:

Google Search Engine – The UX and technology team pushed back on the business team and refuse to show rampant ads which degraded site performance and more importantly user experience and thus an auxiliary product google AdWords was born.

Apple is a great example of how tension leads to innovation. Apple constantly pushes the boundaries of tech to achieve better user experience. Whether by creating the first commercial personal computer with a graphical user interface (GUI) or developing the iPhone.

Netflix is another great example of how all the 3 teams push each other’s boundaries, not just in tech but also in design, from providing personalized movie suggestions to personalized thumbnails using AI to increase customer engagement and thus business. So depending on whether you like romance or sitcoms the thumbnail you see changes of the same movie. This is a great example of how the tech pitched in to create a tailored, personalized user experience that ultimately increases business.

Needless to say, all of them are amongst the top tech companies. But not everyone is Apple, Google or Netflix, sometimes the projects and organizations just don’t have the time, resources, or budget for the user experience to be completed in the way we know will be best for users. In such scenarios we must empathize with the other team members just like we do with users.

Collaborating effectively is challenging, and forming the ideal team is an even more difficult task. Choosing incorrectly doesn’t just impact team morale but significantly affects the final product. As UX designers with a deep understanding of human behavior, we’re in the best position to fix any issues and complete the project successfully.

As UX designers we are trained to be empathetic and unbiased. Let’s use these skills to understand our fellow team members as well. We know how to derive pain points from user journeys and solve for it, let’s use the same skill to derive pain points in a product journey and solve for it.

After all the best design is the one that goes live!

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