“Understanding the Nature of Resistance” - Alla Zollers at EuroIA 2011

 by Martin Belam, 24 September 2011

Over the last two days I’ve been trying to blog my notes from EuroIA as quickly as possible - which means plenty of spelling mistakes, typos, a lack of links, and a hurried style. But people seem to be reading them and enjoying them, so I shall plough on with my notes from Alla Zoller’s talk about encountering resistance during projects.

Download all of my EuroIA 2011 blog posts as one printable PDF or for iBooks

Alla Zollers - “Understanding the Nature of Resistance”

Alla explained that when she started out, she wasn’t particularly good at getting buy-in for her designs, and discovered that most designers will know how difficult it can be. One of the reasons she ascribes this to is that as designers, we are really consultants, regardless of whether we work in-house or for an agency or for ourselves. If you are not the one ultimately able to make the decision, all you can do is advise, recommend, and seek to influence. One of the best ways to do this, she said, is to get your clients or boss or stakeholder to take part in the design and research process. You have to remember that whilst you may have developed a great empathy for your users through research, it is difficult to feel empathy through just reading a report or seeing some slides.

Alla did some exercises with the room, including asking us to write down the name of a recent project where we met resistance. “Which one?” chirped up someone in the audience, to the sound of the hollow laughter of recognition.

Resistance is a natural response by people, Alla argued. It was important to recognise that resistance usually indicates that there is a problem that somebody does not want to deal with or has been avoiding. We should be sympathetic, and realise that almost certainly the person will not admit the real problem. It might be that a decision will put them in a difficult position politically, or their boss is the real obstacle and they don’t want to face a difficult conversation, or it could be that they feel their job role and function is diminished by the presence of the UX discipline within the business. Alla suggested that setting yourself the goal of making them describe the problem out loud can help move things forward. She suggested asking questions like "Do you have doubts about x?", which might tease out “No, it isn’t x, but I’m worried about y.”

She also demonstrated that two people pushing against each other in opposite directions get nowhere, but by allowing your own resistance and pushing back to alternate, you get movement, and you can often end up in a better place. As Dylan Evans put it on Twitter: “Turn your client into a pendulum - let them push, wait, then push them back.”

One of Anna’s final reflections was that “doing design in the easy part, it is dealing with people and their feelings that is the hard part.”


Would you believe it? Yep, more EuroIA blog posts coming up. Next up are Haakon Halvorsen, Kjetil Hansen & Anna Dahlström

This is one of a series of blog posts about EuroIA 2011 in Prague. You can download all of the blog posts as one printable PDF or for iBooks.

All your EuroIA 2011 slides are belong to us
“Designing today’s web” - Luke Wroblewski
“The IA of /Culture” - Martin Belam
“Navigating the Digital Spice Route” - Terry Ma
“Extending the Storytelling - Blending IA and Content Strategy” - Boon Sheridan
“Pervasive IA for the Sentient City” - Andrea Resmini and Luca Rosati
iPads, kids and design lessons for adults - Wouter Sluis-Thiescheffer & Brian Pagán
“Understanding the Nature of Resistance” - Alla Zollers
“Does a Rich GUI Make the Bank Richer?” - Haakon Halvorsen & Kjetil Hansen
“Designing for Everyone, Anywhere, at Any Time” - Anna Dahlström
“Truth and Dare – Out of the Echo-Chamber, into the Fire” - My critique of Jason Mesut at EuroIA 2011
“The Rise and Fall...and Rise Again of Information Architecture” - Bob Royce
“Fill in the IA gap” - Mags Hanley

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