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Tips for Delivering Bad News to Clients

Ugly software interface

Your Baby is Ugly!

That’s the title of the article I just published on UXmatters,  in which I give advice on how to soften the blow of delivering bad news to clients. Let’s face it, when we perform an expert evaluation, usability testing, or user research on an existing product – most of what we find is problems with the current product. Clients don’t pay us to tell them how great their products are. If they’ve hired us, it’s to find problems that can be fixed. But there are ways to make it easier to deliver bad news. In this article I provide the following advice:

  • Get the stakeholders to admit that it’s ugly first
  • Get everyone to buy into your research methods upfront
  • Encourage stakeholders to observe the research
  • Blame the bad news on the participants
  • Back up your findings with metrics
  • Present recordings and quotations
  • Don’t beat your audience over the head
  • Emphasize your expertise
  • Back up your findings with examples of best practices
  • Show your stakeholders they’re not alone
  • Position it as providing recommendations, not pointing out problems
  • Mention the positive aspects too
  • Deliver your findings in person
  • Prioritize the problems they should solve
  • Provide a plan for addressing the problems

You can find more details about this advice in my latest article, Your Baby is Ugly.

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How is usability testing like beer?

Glass of beer

Flickr: HeadCRasher

My manager asked me recently, “Do you think usability testing has become a commodity?” He was referring to the fact that in the last year or two we’ve seen clients go with cheaper usability testing companies. He was questioning whether clients have decided that there’s no difference between usability testing companies except price. Quality isn’t a differentiator to them anymore (if it ever was).

It does seem that there are companies out there doing usability testing at increasingly lower prices. How they cut corners to get their costs low enough to still make a profit amazes me, and it makes me wonder what kind of quality the clients receive.

Then an analogy dawned on me – usability testing, as a consulting service, is like beer. There are many people out there who are perfectly happy drinking cheap beer. It’s cheap, it’s bland, but it does the trick in the end – it gives you a buzz. But that doesn’t mean everyone is satisfied with cheap beer. There are still those out there who appreciate and will pay more for craft beer with quality, taste, and a better buzz.

If you want cheap usability testing, you can get it. It won’t taste good or be the best quality, but if all you’re looking for is a cheap buzz, it will do the trick in the end. On the other hand, if you have a sophisticated enough palette, you’ll be able to tell the difference between cheap usability testing and craft usability testing, and you’ll be more satisfied in the end. The bottom line is: you get what you pay for. There’s usability testing out there for all tastes and budgets.

New article: Learning the Subject Matter

As a consultant, I work with many different clients from a variety of industries. My company, Electronic Ink, focuses on designing business systems, which means our projects are usually much more complex than the typical website.

My job as a design researcher is to uncover and understand the business needs and user needs. But even before beginning stakeholder interviews and user research sessions, I have to know something about the subject matter to ask the right questions and to understand what I’m hearing and observing. There is usually very little time at the beginning of a project to get up to speed on the subject matter. When the subject matter is very complex, I find that to be the most difficult part of the project.

I recently wrote an article for Johnny Holland (the interaction design blog) about this issue. Read the entire article: Learning the Subject Matter.