Using Trade-Off Scales for Prioritization in UX Design Projects

As you practitioners were often asked to help stakeholders understand and prioritize features that will meet business and user needs alike, but the reality is a clear priority isn’t always easy to set. And when everything’s equal, it can be hard to focus our time and attention. When we work this way, we end up providing a less than optimal experience for our users and less than optimal results for the business. To remedy this issue and help with prioritization, try using trade off scales. This simple tool can work well for getting stakeholders and cross-functional team members to discuss, agree on and prioritize various features or dimensions of your project. You can also use this tool to prioritize user needs or pain points uncovered during usability testing. Here’s how it works. First, ask your stakeholders and team members to brainstorm a list of important product attributes or user needs.

These could be things such as the user experience, the scope, the timeline or the budget. They could also be more user focused factors such as convenience, findability, accessibility or responsiveness. Use sticky notes to write these out and cluster them into key themes and patterns. After discussing the key themes and patterns, agree on a shortlist of six to eight factors or features and write them in a vertical list on a whiteboard, draw a horizontal line next to each feature or factor, and add gauges to create a scale. The number of features or factors will determine the number of gauges that should be present in each scale.

Finally, ask stakeholders and team members to place a dot on each scale representing the factors where left is the least important and right is the most important. When placing dots, ask team members to consider both user and business value. The benefit here is that no two attributes can have the same measure of importance. Which force is a priority? Driving for clear precedents may take some time, but stay the course and use this simple tool to productively discuss and determine the priorities in your digital experience.

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