As a practice, UX can be modeled as having two components: Research and Design. For any UX initiative to be successful, these components have to work together harmoniously. But a user’s experience can also be spoiled when one of these components steps on the toes of the other.

Research and Design are co-iterative as phases; they may overlap, but if UX is being done properly then Research is both the first and last phase — it doesn’t matter how many Design iterations fall in the middle.

Research/Design iterations in UX practice

What I mean by stepping on toes is when a phase that should come later starts too early. Design can step on the toes of Research, for example, by developing prototypes or even finished products that are not informed by Research findings, which is bad on its own but worse if users come into contact with those uninformed artifacts. (Indeed, in UX we often lament instances where this happens, and it happens a lot!) It affects those users’ expectations and perceptions of what the experience should be, and closes doors to what the experience might be.

When Research steps on the toes of Design, you get things like the incident that prompted me to write this blog entry today: I was on a website, entering information into a form. In fact I was typing into a field. In the middle of that task, I was interrupted by a popup asking me for feedback on the website, and I had to take my hands off my keyboard and use my mouse to take further action.

I was interrupted in a task by a popup that looked roughly like this

There are three actions a user might take in this situation:

  1. Give feedback according to how the experience has generally been up to that point
  2. Close the popup, usually without thinking about it
  3. Give feedback that is negatively biased by the recent interruption

I would bet that a tiny fraction of people would respond with Action 1. Personally, I responded with Action 2, as I suspect most people probably would. (When briefly interrupted from a task, it’s normal to simply want to resume the task.) I don’t know how many people will generally go with Action 3, but I would bet it is a much larger proportion than those who would go with Action 1.

The people maintaining the website should have waited until just after users completed the form to ask for feedback. There’s a good chance many people would still take option 2 at that point, but whatever feedback would be collected would not be negatively biased by a recent disruption.

In this case, Research stepped on the toes of Design by asking users for feedback before they could complete the experience as designed. Not only will those users not be able to comment on the whole experience, but when giving feedback they will be biased against whatever came before. This is why it’s important for the two sides of UX not to step on each others’ toes.

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