Knowing When We’re Wrong

One of the keys to a successful UX design process is learning to articulate design decisions to other people in a way that is effective and compels them to agree with us. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things don’t always work out the way we expected. We discover that our solution might not be the right one after all. So in a relationship defined by trust and good decisions, how can we deal with being wrong?

In this post, I’ll outline three things to look out for that will help us see when we’re wrong. UX Designers aren’t always right, and when we’re wrong we need to see it as an opportunity to build more trust and create a better user experience.

Red Flags

The hardest part about being wrong is even knowing when we’re wrong in the first place! It can be easy for our own arrogance to get in the way of seeing the problem. As UX designers, we see our designs as our baby – this perfect thing we created and are watching go out into the real world. It’s really hard to see the flaws with it, even when people tell us. So how can we know when we’re wrong? There are three red flags:

1. The problem still exists

While we try to solve user problems with design, it’s not a given that our solution will always work as expected. If we find that the problem still exists, then we’re wrong and we need to change something. I’ve actually seen UX designers in complete denial that their work is to blame for an unsolved problem. “I redesigned it and it’s much better now,” they’ll say, “If conversion hasn’t improved, there must be some other issue.”

Use usability metrics, customer feedback, data analytics and sales information to make sure the design is having the intended effect. The metrics must improve and the business must move forward, otherwise there’s no point. No matter how great we think our UX designs are, if the problem still exists we’re wrong.

2. Users don’t get it

Because we want our UX designs to be easy to use, we have to see that they’re actually making it easier for people. If not, we’re wrong! We are not doing user experience design if we haven’t actually seen a user experience it. I’ve worked with designers who are so convinced that their interface is easy to use, that no amount of failed usability testing will convince them.

They usually blame the users. “This interaction is common on mobile devices now. If the users don’t know how to use it, they must not be familiar with modern design patterns!” Guess what? The user is not to blame, their designs are. Check your work with real people by doing usability tests and then use that information to help see where you went wrong.

3. Everyone is against us

We can be really arrogant about how great our solutions are. We may feel justified that ‘no one else knows good UX design’ and so even in the face of opposition, we insist we’re right. But when a majority of people disagree with your decisions, it’s a sure sign that you’re doing it wrong.

“I know you all disagree with this decision, but from a UX design perspective this makes the most sense so you need to trust me and my expertise.” While we do want everyone to trust us with difficult decisions, it’s not true that we’re always right just because we’re UX designers. When people disagree with our solution even after considering our solid reasoning, we’re wrong and we need to figure out why.

The Paradox of Trust

When you discover you’re wrong, you risk breaking the trust that was extended to you. It’s difficult to express confidence in your decisions and then watch as your assumptions come crumbling down. However, the way you deal with it will do more for your recovery efforts than even fixing the problem that you uncovered would.

You see, there is a paradox with being wrong. While it may seem like trust will be broken, it’s actually an opportunity to build even more trust by owning up to the mistake. It’s counterintuitive, I know: we’ve let down our team and now we’re supposed to admit it? How does that build trust?


In the world of relationships, people are far more forgiving than you might expect. People appreciate honesty more than smoke and mirrors. The way they know they can trust you is when they see that you’ll own up to mistakes. It may be hard at first: it will create difficult conversations. But in the end, you’ll almost always come out on top when people see your intent. That even when you screw up, you’re there to admit it, fix it, and move on.

“The cost of being wrong is less than the cost of doing nothing.”
    – Seth Godin, Poke the Box


So now that we’ve accepted we were wrong and want to make things right, what’s the best way to do so? Join us for part two when we’ll provide some advice for recovering from these mistakes without damaging important relationships or the trust your team has in you.

This post is adapted from the book Articulating Design Decisions: Communicate with Stakeholders, Keep Your Sanity, and Deliver the Best User Experience by Tom Greever and published by O’Reilly Media. Used by permission.