Quality Hinges on Effective Micro-Decision Making

In UX Design, Quality Hinges on Effective Micro-Decision Making

By Dorothy Shamonsky, Ph.D.

You start a new design project. Quickly, you need to make some big decisions about the strategy, overall concept, information architecture and layout templates. And you have to follow up by making even more decisions.

What interaction patterns will you use? What elements should have animations? What are the best colors and fonts for this project? These major decisions provide the foundation for your mockups and a spec.

Since development has now begun, or is about to, you’re home free, right? Not so fast. As the designer, there are still a lot of smaller “micro” decisions you  need to make before this project is ready for release.


User experience (UX) projects are all about the details. Getting them right by making good micro decisions matters to the overall smoothness and transparency of the experience.

You’ve addressed the most significant parts of the design and are being pulled onto another project. Deadlines are looming. It’s human nature to ignore or give micro decisions only cursory attention. Even defer them to the developer, forcing him or her to make design decisions in order to complete the implementation.

This is not good — for you, your developer and your client.

Too often, design teams put a lot of effort into the initial design and mockups. But once this phase is complete, there is a drop-off of in terms of effort. That’s a problem since weak or discordant elements capture a user’s attention quicker than harmonious ones do.

So why do critical micro-decisions sometimes get swept under the rug?

Typically, it’s a lack of awareness that implementation involves the time-consuming process of resolving all those small unresolved details. You may hope that sticky details will somehow magically get resolved in acceptable fashion without your attention. I get the attitude. Budgets are limited and deadlines tight. An active dialog with stakeholders or developers will lead to inevitable conflicts.

But, this head-in-the-sand approach is an abdication of your responsibility.

Sure, deferring or ignoring micro decisions may seem quicker in the moment. But, ultimately these tactics usually extend project deadlines. And, many not-so-good micro decisions lead to many micro-failures, and that leads to an overall user experience that is mediocre at best. Making good micro-decisions can prevent more changes later in the project, lead to strong implementations, and prevent stakeholder unhappiness.

The lesson: if you want an outcome that matches the quality level of your design, you must establish a serious, vigilant micro-decision-making process.

To do that you must recognize what good micro-decision-making is, in the context of a UX project. Here are three essentials:

  1. The appropriate person is making the decision; developers should not be left to make design decisions that designers neglect.
  2. The designer communicates effectively with all the players relevant to a specific decision. That means producing quick mockups so that those involved can visualize and understand the issue.
  3. All decisions are made within the context of the larger design. Mockups of new elements should always be reviewed in the context of the full screen/page design or even the entire app/site, and not as stand-alone.

Design processes are inevitably imperfect. Things get messy. But the benefits of being vigilant with design micro decisions can be the difference between a mediocre outcome and a stellar one.

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