Recently I've been seeing a lot of questions asking why a particular vendor or organization chose a particular design (for example, this, this or this).

These questions can certainly be interesting, but I'm not sure they fit into the SE model. They can't be answered (well, not unless a representative of the organization actually posts a response), and they invite speculation. There could be a whole host of reasons underpinning a particular design decision, not all of which are related to human factors, so not only is it impossible to choose a correct answer, but many of these answers could end up talking about topics unrelated to UX.

What do we do about these topics? Do we -

  1. Leave them be - they provide scope for interesting and engaging discussion, which is good enough for us?
  2. Edit them to ask what human factors reasons might have underpinned a design decision, and which were most likely?
  3. Close such questions as off-topic?
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2 Answers 2

I don't think they're suitable for here, no. Mostly for the reasons you suggest.

As i mentioned in a recent meta comment

I think the questions that are "Why X was done this way" are poor questions for this site because unless there is a definitive article from the team who built it as to why they did it that way they're just going to solicit guess answers. Really they should be reworded to "How can I improve on the design of X in a manner that makes it more suitable for Y"

So in answer to your direct question, none of those three options are what I'd suggest.

They shouldn't be left as-is because it's very unlikely they can be answered correctly unless the actual designer themselves turns up and answers it.

Yes, they should probably be edited, but not really for what human factors might have underpineed the decision because again, that's just going to result in speculation.

And closing them off? Maybe that's appropriate, it'll depend on the question really. However it would probably be better placed to be edited so that there is an actual answerable question in there. So instead of asking people to speculate on why it might have been done in that way they could be edited to ask if the solution could be improved so that it is more usable / accessible / responsive.

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If we do decide they are off topic then this should be included in the FAQ –  Charles Wesley Feb 22 '13 at 18:28
    
What about questions that ask about trends throughout multiple organizations? We may not have definitive answers, but we can use evidence of similarities to determine reasonable ideas, correct? –  Koviko Mar 4 '13 at 2:29

Since I asked one of the questions mentioned in the question, I think I want to state my view of things. I find UX related questions everywhere in daily life, and when something unexpected happen, I make a mental note on the event in order to make an UX.SE question out of it later.

Often this comes from bad user experience. But you can't ask a rant question, since it'll be rightfully closed. In that case you need to revise your question into something different.

Asking the reasons behind design may be very hard to answer, since you need to find the design team who did it, to be 100% accurate. Sometimes the design team have a blog, as in the case of omitting the save button on OneNote. And when you're asking such a question, it means that you didn't find the answer searching the web. It doesn't mean that the answer isn't there to find, just that you didn't find it.

Answers given to a question, may still be useful, since they often explains things you didn't consider and in that case makes you understand how things may be.

Avoiding to ask a question just because it is hard to answer, sounds wrong at a site which is intended for enthusiasts, practitioners and researchers. A good asked question, without a correct answer still is awarded at SE. That's why the Unsung Hero badge exist. At least that's my interpretation of it.

To answer your question above: yes they are answerable, even if the answer may be hard to find.

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My problem isn't so much that the real answers are hard to find, it's all the bad or opinionated answers these get. Most often the highest voted answer on these isn't something that actually found the reason for X, but they just explain why X is great/stupid and the upvotes seem to be used exclusively as "I agree", not "this is useful", which is definitely not a good thing. Too often our highest voted answers for these questions are simply popular, not accurate or useful. –  Ben Brocka Feb 25 '13 at 3:59

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