Archive for November 2006

Conflict-Aware Design: Accounting For Conflict In User Experiences

November 7th, 2006 — 2:33pm

Con­flict is a nat­ural part of human expe­ri­ence. It’s some­thing we encounter every day on lev­els small and large, and learn to address. And con­flict appears at every level of a user expe­ri­ence, from busi­ness goals and strat­egy, user needs, con­cept and men­tal mod­els, to task flows, screen-based inter­ac­tions, ter­mi­nol­ogy, and visual design choices.
Yet many of our user expe­ri­ence prac­tices and approaches do not con­sider con­flict ade­quately, or at all. User expe­ri­ence design assump­tions, arti­facts, habits of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and work­ing prac­tices com­bine to bypass ade­quate con­sid­er­a­tion of con­flict. The result is neglect of con­flict as an area of inves­ti­ga­tion, dis­cus­sion, and design respon­si­bil­ity. It becomes some­thing we con­sider only in pass­ing, gen­er­ally by not­ing an order of pri­or­ity for the per­sonas asso­ci­ated with an evolv­ing design
Min­i­miz­ing con­flict may seem prag­matic: explor­ing con­flict makes many peo­ple ner­vous, and stake­hold­ers may not react well unless prop­erly pre­pared. But this view misses the sig­nif­i­cance of con­flict. Con­flict is a pointer to some­thing peo­ple care about, pay atten­tion to, need, want, or think is impor­tant in some way.
In the same way that smoke equals fire, con­flict equals inter­est, and inter­est should be a focus for design.
Social Archi­tec­tures, Expe­ri­ences, and Envi­ron­ments
Con­flict is an espe­cially impor­tant area for User expe­ri­ence design to con­sider now, thanks to the emerg­ing land­scape of social media. Social net­works, par­tic­i­pa­tory archi­tec­tures, busi­ness and com­mu­nity mod­els depen­dent on co-creation of con­tent, and col­lab­o­ra­tive media for­mats all empha­size social dynam­ics. These dynam­ics inevitably include ele­ments of con­flict. The con­tin­ued growth of shar­ing, net­works, inter­con­nec­tions, and com­plex rela­tion­ships link­ing indi­vid­u­als and groups on-line will only increase the role and sig­nif­i­cance of con­flict for suc­cess­ful user expe­ri­ence efforts.
Plainly, if we aim to design for user expe­ri­ences now and in the future, we must account for con­flict. In terms of the evo­lu­tion of user expe­ri­ence design, the con­sid­er­a­tion of con­flict marks another step in the con­tin­ued mat­u­ra­tion of the field. We might call design approaches that take con­flict into account conflict-aware design.
Conflict-aware Design In Prac­tice
Conflict-aware design offers sub­stan­tial value for design­ers, stake hold­ers, users — all inter­ested par­ties, really — with lit­tle impact on time­lines, costs, approaches, or exist­ing meth­ods. Con­flict is sim­ply another aspect of the user expe­ri­ence to explore and under­stand, share analy­sis of with deci­sion mak­ers, and direct design solu­tions to address.
Conflict-aware design builds on and enhances exist­ing prac­tices, adding a layer of con­text at each stage of the design cycle con­cerned with the spe­cific con­flicts that will impact the user expe­ri­ence. No spe­cial­ized design doc­u­ments or tech­niques are required.
The sec­ond part of this essay will con­sider how com­mon user expe­ri­ence activ­i­ties and arti­facts can be adapted for conflict-aware design.

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