Venn and the Art of Overlap Maximization

Balancing the approach.

A couple of years back I half-yawned my way through a UX­Week break­out ses­sion on di­git­al strategy led by Hen­ning Fisc­her from Ad­apt­ive Path. Root cause ana­lys­is fea­tured. The group also went through a couple of mock spend­ing ex­er­cises. Then I re­mem­ber a Venn Dia­gram that had me say­ing, “I have to re­mem­ber this,” be­fore I skipped out early for some San Fran Chinese.

The yawns wer­en’t Fisc­her’s fault – I was just in a time and place that made it hard for me to take the 30,000-foot view. But the Venn stirred in me a sense of re­cog­ni­tion. It showed the over­lap of teams in­volved in design­ing and mak­ing on­line products. If the groups wer­en’t labeled as they are above they were pretty close, and the spot in the middle, Fisc­her stressed, was where the ten­sion of con­cerns was equal and the product was in­formed by its user ad­voc­ates, and busi­ness and tech­nic­al stake­hold­ers.

Part of the reas­on per­spect­ive can be dif­fi­cult, es­pe­cially for mem­bers of in-house teams, is be­cause we of­ten sub­scribe to a sort of jin­go­ist­ic world view that frames the pur­suit of user/busi­ness/tech­nic­al in­terests as a zero-sum com­pet­i­tion. In ef­fect, the Venn is sub­ject to ex­pans­ive, out­ward pres­sures as teams pur­sue their goals over the oth­ers.’ And in en­vir­on­ments where one group has a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of power or con­trol, this view en­sures that that group’s con­cerns are dis­pro­por­tion­ately rep­res­en­ted in the fi­nal product. Google’s products smell of en­gin­eer­ing. Most oth­ers leave us won­der­ing why re­gis­tra­tion is re­quired be­fore we’re offered con­tent, or why they simply aren’t bet­ter…

If we’re able to do a 180 and turn from na­tion­al­ists in­to glob­al­ists, the fo­cus for all teams be­comes max­im­iz­a­tion of the Venn over­lap. Pri­or­it­ies con­tin­ue to dif­fer­ but they’re no longer at odds by defin­i­tion. Busi­ness stake­hold­ers re­cog­nize that UX, though no­tori­ously dif­fi­cult to quanti­fy, is in­teg­ral to the bot­tom line and the UX guys in turn seek coun­sel from their backend coun­ter­parts. Each re­gion of the Venn is in­formed by the oth­er two as UX goals be­come Busi­ness goals be­come De­vel­op­ment goals. “What could be a four-step pro­cess has turned in to nine… Are we sure that the busi­ness value in users who com­plete these off­sets the im­plied tech­nic­al chal­lenges and user in­con­veni­en­ce and fal­lout?” Con­struct­ive de­bate on that kind of ques­tion puts us on our way to the right bal­ance of busi­ness and cus­tom­er needs.

I’ve per­son­ally fallen in­to the trap of think­ing I needed to de­fend UI/UX ter­rit­ory as part of my job. What I’ve later come to re­cog­nize-through ex­per­i­ence, read­ing, con­fer­ences, and UCD course audits-is that even in en­vir­on­ments that don’t in­vest heav­ily in user stud­ies or re­search, that UI/UX re­gion doesn’t be­long to us but rather to the user. Ac­know­ledge­ment of this real­ity can free today’s UI/UX de­sign­er to ad­voc­ate on be­half of the user, but with unique in­sight in­to busi­ness and tech­nic­al con­cerns-in oth­er words, to take the 30,000-foot view. And in fact, as the de­sign­ers of today’s di­git­al products, this is our ob­lig­a­tion. It’s up to us to be first in­to the over­lap.

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