Design or Development, who wins? … The customer
As a user experience designer it is my responsibility to design the best possible experience for a customer as they use a website or do just about anything online. The problem with that scenario is that the internet, browsers, and especially code all have their limitations. While the interest of the customer should be #1 in the minds of everyone at a company, after all, they pay the bills, the harsh reality of things is that what would benefit the customer the most may not always be easily done.
Here’s a scenario to illustrate this point. I was working on revamping a form for a particular state and discovered that in haste the developers used a form builder to migrate the questions from the paper form into an online version. This automated process ensured that no thought was given to how the user will encounter this 175 question form. While there were some groupings of questions and divisions between sections of the form the display of the individual questions was built using templates based on the type of question. So what you get is a form with 175 questions straight down.
The challenge given to me was to redesign this form to make more sense to the user and to clean up the design to make it more visually appealing. I completed the redesign and submitted it to the state for approval to which they showed great enthusiasm. Not only was the form easier to read, but I was also able to find redundancy between the paper forms and suggest places where previous questions had already provided the answers to later questions. With this approval from the state, we were all ready to begin updating the templates to use the new designs… that is until the developers of the form builder saw them.
User Experience and Development Issues
The form builder was designed to be very generic. Enter a few questions and you get a form… the end. While this may work for smaller forms I don’t think the architects of this builder imagined it would be used to such a large extent but regardless of intentions it was in fact being used and we had to deal with this reality. The designs I created don’t line up with the limitations of the form builder and the code which drives it. The issues lie in the way it’s set up, the form builder expects all forms to be rendered (or viewed) using the pre-defined templates and isn’t set up to handle any variation from the design. That requires new templates and developer time in order to update the system to use them.
There is indeed a real limitation when you take one system which requires no development and build a custom solution for a client which will require developers to become involved. What was once a design issue becomes a development issue and now they need to allocate resources to a project they didn’t expect to work on.
The Breaking Point
The question remains, what is the breaking point for all of this. Is the customer the final word in what should be done? Do the development team and their limited resources outweigh the needs of the user? Sometimes the answer, sadly, is yes they do. Not every company has the luxury of unlimited resources and sometimes projects and unfortunately, users need to take a hit in order to keep the timelines moving and make deliveries on time to fulfill contracts. In a perfect world the designers and ultimately the users would come out of the top, the software would do exactly what it was designed to do and the experience would be the best it could be for the given task. But as the reality of things goes, the world is not perfect and all we can do is strive to give the best experience given the resources we have available.
It does seem a shame that the ones who take the brunt of all of this are those we depend on in order to stay in business, the customers.
How to handle delicate situations
This becomes a delicate situation where it is imperative as the only representative of the user that you fight for improvements. Do not take no for an answer, these do not warrant a black and white response, it is a gray area. Do your research and find the critical pain points. Use that data to back up what you’ve already have discovered just by using the software, show them how the customers are not happy with the current designs. Then you start to make compromises. Find ways to work within the system to fix those critical pain points and you might open small doors to getting the rest fixed.
The Form Builder
The update to the form builder is still under discussion. I am at the stage of finding the compromises within the system but if I am resolved to make improvements any way that I can. It may lead to an overhaul of all form templates or perhaps the addition of new layout types into the form builder options, but either way, the ultimate winner of this challenge is the customer.