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Experience Design

Planning design projects to avoid opinion wars

Jared Spool shares good advice for design teams in his recent post “Putting An End To An Opinion War”. He observes that “Opinion wars kill design projects.” He shares two key ways to end an opinion war:

  • using data to take decisions out of the realm of opinion
  • appointing a final arbitrator

These valuable tools are best when agreed upon from the beginning. User research is most effective when planned to be part of a project from the outset. A final arbitrator should be assigned with the authority and responsibility from the start as well. Otherwise, each of these approaches can be wielded defensively and poorly when they are simply reactions when a problem occurs.
One challenge to establishing an arbitrator is having at least three designers on a team. That isn’t always feasible. One alternative approach is to establish a practice of critique. Encouraging open sharing of comments and questions on how a particular design does or does not serve the actual problem focuses discussions on the real outcome of serving users, not winning opinion wars. Coupled with data collected from real users, a well-executed critique process can help people find the common ground between their viewpoints based on established success criteria, when a third person is not available to define common ground for them.Image of two hands about to shake in agreement
Other approaches may serve as well, but more important than the selected approach is that effort is made to prevent opinion wars before they happen.  Spool notes:

“We’ve established a culture that says it’s the right thing to do make a decision, even if that decision turns out not to go the way people wanted. Even if that decision turns out, in the long run, to have not been the best approach. This is because a decision that moves us forward is better than getting stalled.”

Culture is important and best not left to chance. Up-front planning to avoid opinion wars – or at least, end them quickly when they do occur – is critical to ensure the approaches used can be most effective. Planning activities like user research and design arbitration into your projects will allow the team to emphasize and focus on delivery and decisions. In the end, avoiding opinion wars fosters success for your project and ensures that your users will be the ultimate winners.

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Karen Bachmann

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