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How Conflict Is Key To Creating Great User Experiences

Meetup at Portent - How conflict is key to creating great user experience

Mr. Fisher Goes to Washington

Steve Fisher, co-organizer Design & Content Conference recently visited Portent’s office in Seattle (Washington) to exchange brilliant ideas, but also to tell us some horror stories.

For example: What do zombies have to do with content and design? Clearly, a lot. We Content Strategists are officially outpaced and outnumbered. So we huddle together for warmth at meetups and look for brilliant ways to help clients solve the business challenges that undermine their content programs.

Although Steve loves Zombie metaphors he says we’re not facing an apocalypse. Far from it.

A Culture of “Likes” Doesn’t Solve Problems

In his talk, “Conflict is the Key to Great Experiences,” Steve refers to the movie Warm Bodies to point out how a culture built around the weak emotion of “Like” can sap us of the ability to get out of routines and habits that mask more meaningful issues. Stopping at “Like” can rob us of the full range of human emotion, both good and bad. At worst, we’re left mindlessly clicking that iconic blue thumb in both our personal and professional lives.

But if Steve and those metaphorical Zombies are right, we can be brought round. As designers, that begins with accepting and truly seeking the full spectrum of emotion in our process – especially conflict.

Sometimes we’ll have to fight to move forward. A culture of likes doesn’t solve problems.

Steve says both clients and designers can rely too heavily on the positive, because it’s easy. It’s safe. When we focus too early on what’s pleasant enough to “like” – we risk missing the opportunity to get deeper and ultimately provide the right solution based on the real, underlying challenges.

Steve recommends a process that helps you find the challenges and obstacles early and move past them collaboratively. His starts with four basic questions:

  • What do you do?
  • What’s painful?
  • What do you love?
  • What do you wish?

Getting people to open up is key. Most find it natural to talk about what they do and what’s going well. Some may even be eager to share their struggles at the same time as their passions and hopes. But it’s our job to get beyond the “like”, even if it doesn’t come pouring out immediately. It’s critical to take the time to listen and genuinely hear what is challenging your client or audience before you ask them about what they like, or love.

Steve suggests and we wholeheartedly agree that “Laddering”, the act of asking “Why?” repeatedly until you fully understand the response, is one great way to move from the superficial to the truly impactful.

When you ask all the “whys”, you’re more prepared to build a system that solves problems based on the reality of the situation, rather than its symptoms. Steve uses the workshop format to get stakeholders and designers together to understand both the pain points as well as the aspirations involved.

Workshops can get stressful (plan for many breaks and snacks.) Long hours working every cell in your brain and body to find the key to building the right system can lead to disagreement.



Agreement. Not Compromise.

Steve urges you to keep asking, talking, thinking, drawing, and adjusting until you reach agreement instead of compromise.

Agreement means each side wins, no one walks away feeling like they gave up too early, or didn’t express themselves, or fought hard enough for what they needed. It’s hard to get there because conflict, sticking to your guns can be messy. Did we mention that Portent and this meetup are located in the heart of Seattle, the passivity capital of the universe?

But once we work through conflict to that first agreement – it’s easier to work towards the next meaningful agreement. And the next.

At Portent, we believe content is a critical part of holistic design. So we’re sending our team to the Design & Content Conference in Vancouver, BC, August 5-7. Want to strengthen your team’s collaboration and communication skills, use code “seattle10” for 10% off your ticket.

Read more about Steve’s ideas and methods at Republic of Quality.

Portent Alum Misty Weaver is the past lead for the Content Strategy practice here at Portent, and also teaches at the University of Washington. She is a dedicated community volunteer, organizing the Content Strategy Seattle meetup and actively supporting the IA/UX meetup.

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  1. I couldn’t agree with this article more. Very well written and observed. As a UX practitioner I know exactly where you’re coming from. My biggest challenge in the UK is getting people to embrace and join in (a point I know you’ve referenced above). To get people involved in the process I usually use props like lego, cakes, sweets and post-it notes! I’ve also experienced some sessions that have started with real conflict but those ones have always ended up the most positive!

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