So, for those of you who don't frequent the main Meta.StackOverflow site you might not know that change is afoot.

NO MORE CLOSED QUESTIONS

OK, that's not strictly true. Questions will be closed off, but they'll be marked as ON HOLD instead, to give the poster the chance to edit them to bring them more in-line with what is on-topic for the site, without being put off by the scary 'CLOSED!!!' terminology that likely scares people away.

Full details about this change are here:

Closing changes: [on hold], unclear, too broad, opinion-based, off-topic reasons, bye-bye to Too Localized

This change gives us, as a community, the opportunity to explicitly decide what sort of questions we're going to accept and - more importantly for this particular meta question - what we deem as Off Topic.

We already have one specific issue that has been added to the FAQ - Icon Requests. However that was added in a hack-y sort of way to the 'what should I ask' section. Not really where it belongs. This change to the closure procedure means we can explicitly set up some Off Topic reasons that will be shown in the 'on hold' message for such 'closed' questions.

So, lets throw it open to the floor. What is Off Topic for this site?

Lets not just suggest stuff that nobody would actually attempt to ask here, those of you with the reputation can check the Recent Closed Questions list to see what has actually been asked and then closed off on this site. Those of you without the reputation to view this would still doubtless have seen questions that have been closed off on the main site. What sort of questions were they?

We'll take the top 3 as discussed on this post and officially add them to the 'on hold' message for off-topic questions.

Some further information about suggesting such close reasons is available on the main Meta.SO site

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+1 This is the best news on this site, ever! Finally we will be a true user driven site where the n00b-hate will be less prominent. Lets help new users instead. –  Benny Skogberg Jun 20 '13 at 19:52
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12 Answers

Implementation Questions

This site is for design questions, not implementation questions. Things like the use of programs like photoshop or languages like CSS are off topic.

This could probably do with a better title, but "how do I do this in CSS" and other code questions are pretty common, and we get the occasional Graphic Design question as well. Those that aren't fit to be migrated should have an explicit close reason.

Current wording could probably be better, any suggestions? I want the wording to be as inclusive of design/research/planning while still excluding actual work in code, photoshop, etc.


This is half-implemented already by a reason an SE employee must have made for us:

"Questions about software development are off-topic here, but can be asked on Stack Overflow."

Should we edit the current one, leave it be or add a second reason for graphic design/non-programming implementation questions? Programming ones are probably the most common so I think we have a reasonable level of coverage with the current reason..

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Yes, something along the lines of 'If you've already decided what you want to do and you're asking us how to do it then you're probably in the wrong place'. –  JonW Jun 20 '13 at 16:13
    
@JonW yeah, some specific copy about "what" not "how" might work better –  Ben Brocka Jun 20 '13 at 16:39
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@JonW The wording "how to do something" is still ambiguous: for example How to display too much data? is a perfectly valid "how to" UX question. Maybe use a more specific verb: how to implement/code/put into practice. –  Pasha S Jun 20 '13 at 17:30
    
We should edit the already existing reason, yes. We should remove the suggestion that it be asked on StackOverflow as I do not believe that the vast majority of questions that people think should be asked on SO are actually suited to that site. –  JonW Jul 2 '13 at 8:28
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UX Reviews

Questions here are expected to be relevant for a variety of people in the same situation. Reviewing a site, flow or interface only helps one person at a specific time. Instead try to ask a focused question about a particular aspect of the design that solicits solutions, not opinions.

Reviews aren't really "questions" anyway so there's a number of ways to close them, but I think a specific off topic reason would better explain the reasoning behind that. Additionally it can implicitly say "hey ask a more focused question" which otherwise I usually have to put in a comment manually every time.

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Icon Requests and Suggestions

I'm having trouble coming up with a good icon for feature X. Should I ask here for ideas?

No. While the subject of icons is on topic, there's very little value in soliciting suggestions for a specific icon in a specific context. Instead, have a look a this question: How do you create or select an icon for a feature?

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This one's implemented, though worded a bit differently: Questions seeking icon recommendations are off-topic as they are rarely useful to others. Instead, ask for advice on how to represent a particular concept pictorally, and then take that advice and use it to find or create icons. See: Is it time to put an end to “Icon for X” questions? –  Ben Brocka Jun 27 '13 at 16:25
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Why does {application / product X} do this?

Mostly, the answer to such questions is going to be: 'You'll have to ask the company / developer, they're the only ones who will know the answer".

Questions need to be specific and practical problems that you need an answer to. Curiosity about development decisions, while interesting, aren't really suited to a Q&A website.

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Some questions along these lines have been quite interesting. While I agree it is speculation most of the times, but, there are cases in which you can fish out a correct answer. –  rk. Jun 21 '13 at 14:37
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@rk you would need to broaden it to "why do these 5 apps do this same thing?" for that to work, e.g. cover the UX theory of why such a thing is desirable, not the whims of a single app and a single designer. –  Jeff Atwood Jun 24 '13 at 7:07
    
I think asking why, say, GMail implements some novel feature is beyond "a single app and a single designer". You can assume that high profile apps don't make UI changes lightly. –  Steve Bennett Jun 24 '13 at 7:56
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@SteveBennett yes, you can assume this, but proving it is not really something we can answer. That's kind of my point here - Yes, Google / Apple / Microsoft do lots of user test, yes, they base their decisions on that user testing, but what that user testing actually found is not something anyone can answer other than people directly involved in carrying it out, unless that research is published which it rarely is. –  JonW Jun 24 '13 at 8:25
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True, but there's no criteria of "provably correct" for answers, is there? A question phrased as "Why did Google implement X feature?" is really "What are the benefits of the X feature" - and can be answered as such. –  Steve Bennett Jun 25 '13 at 1:34
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@SteveBennett If they are to be answered like that, they need to be asked (or edited to ask) like that. Putting a question on-hold is an indicator that that editing is necessary. –  Andrew Leach Jun 28 '13 at 6:33
    
-1 This is just putting way too much emphasis on an irrelevant detail. If I ask “Should I do X?” or “What could be the rationale to do X?”, the question is on-topic and, like most questions on this site, will be met with a lot of unsubstantiated opinion. If I ask “Why did Google do X?”, it's closed as “opinion-based” even if there are already some good answers, possibly even actual publications on it out there. If the formulation is such a big problem, better just edit it or make a note in the comments and just get to the meat of the question, namely the pros and cons of X. –  Gaël Laurans Jul 2 '13 at 10:46
    
@GaëlLaurans the point of changing from 'Closed' to 'On Hold' is to show the posters that the questions are only temporarily unavailable for answers until the poster can bring the question more in-line with the site. Questions about why X company does something aren't useful questions, they're just trivia really. What is useful is asking whether the solution that X company used is going to be suitable for 'Y' purpose. That way it's practical and answerable, regardless of whether we have documented evidence for why Google (or whomever) did something or not. –  JonW Jul 2 '13 at 10:58
    
I strongly disagree. For one, hiding behind the “on hold” moniker does not really change the problem. No matter how you want to call it, it amounts to slapping posters in the face for questions that are no worse than any other on the site. Furthermore, I believe that far from being “trivia”, questions that can be answered with actual evidence for why someone did something are among the most valuable. One way or the other, actual, published, user tests results or insights into real design processes are much less “opinion-based” than what Joe-webdesigner thinks I should do to achieve X or Y. –  Gaël Laurans Jul 2 '13 at 11:13
    
@GaëlLaurans These questions are only valuable if you need to apply that situation / technique to a specific problem. From the help centre link: You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.. Questions about why X did something are not such questions, but can likely be amended to be such by the poster. That's why such questions should be placed on hold until they can do so. –  JonW Jul 2 '13 at 11:25
    
But there was obviously an actual problem at the root of the decision, it's really as practical as it gets. To the extent that anything general can be said about UX problems (perhaps the real issue behind the generally evidence-free quality of answers on this site), they are just as relevant as someone asking “Should I do X?” Bottom line is: Such questions have led to good answers in the past and I see no evidence that arbitrary restrictions would be conducive to a general improvement in quality. –  Gaël Laurans Jul 2 '13 at 11:40
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Shopping Request

Sorry, but questions requesting recommendations for books / software / apps / papers etc. would fall into the shopping request category and aren't really suitable to a Q&A website. The reason for this is that there is no one correct answer, and such recommended items would soon be updated and replaced with newer / better versions making the best answers redundant. Therefore you're better off visiting our Chat site for such discussions, they're not really suitable for this main site I'm afraid.

This one pops up regularly enough that I'm surprised JonW didn't propose this formally. Perhaps he can comment on whether he thinks it isn't suitable, however it seems like a common enough issue to warrant inclusion on this list.

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Good suggestion, some of the StackExchange sites have set this up as one of the specific Off Topic reasons, whereas others just use the already available 'Too Broad' or 'Primarily Opinion Based' reasons as the method of closing off these type of question. They are not likely to ever be suitable to StackExchange sites in general, so personally I'm more tempted to keep the 3 bespoke close reasons to more specific UX ones, and close off Shopping Requests as 'Primarily Opinion Based' but we'll see if other people agree. –  JonW Jul 10 '13 at 8:24
    
I just flagged a question that's a shopping request as "primarily opinion based" based on this answer and @JonW's comment and it was declined. Is this type of question going to be in scope on UX.SE? –  norabora Jul 25 '13 at 22:15
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@norabora: With that particular question flagged it was probably declined because it's not exactly a tools request question, it's about a general system to apply to versioning. In a sense it's about what to use tools for, not what tools to use. It is borderline, but is acceptable as there can be a useful answer to the question that isn't just providing a link to a piece of software. So in answer to your question, no, shopping request questions won't be accepted at any time in the near future, but we'd have to treat each question on a case-by-case basis, as we do with all questions really. –  JonW Jul 26 '13 at 7:53
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UX Profession Questions

Questions here are expected to pertain to issues of user experience. Questions regarding the profession of User Experience including book recommendations, career advice, and the practice of project management are out of scope for this site.

This could be a broadly defined category of questions that covers everything from UX book recommendations, career advice, project management techniques, etc.

These types of questions are one degree removed from UX. It isn't about UX, rather the practice of UX. These questions would probably be best suited for chat, other stack exchanges (such as Project Management, UX professional networking groups/organizations, etc.

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We could mention The Workplace and Project Management in this reason. Not 100% sure that UX specific profession issues should be off topic though; stuff like communicating via wireframes seems like it's a "profession" thing but fine here. Stuff that's just "work" would be better on Workplace, stuff that's managing projects in general should be on PM –  Ben Brocka Jun 26 '13 at 15:35
    
I agree there is a grey area between. However if we leave the language at a higher level the fine grain definition will be played out by how and when the community chooses to vote to close a question with this as the reason. –  Charles Wesley Jun 26 '13 at 15:49
    
Book recommendations off-topic?! –  Gaël Laurans Jul 2 '13 at 10:41
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Example of X

Questions asking for example of feature X, or example of design template Y isn't really on topic for UX.SE. Not that these questions is really off topic, but they are unanswerable.

Examples tend to get outdated quickly and there are no "correct" answer to an example of question. Probably, these questions really are bad subjective questions. It's better to ask a specific answerable question with one clear and helpful answer.

But I'm doubtful whether these questions are off topic or if they belong to the new category primarily opinion-based. So I'll leave this "answer" as is, and see where the votes take it.

Example of example of

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-1 I find such questions useful, more so than most armchair web design commentary out there. –  Gaël Laurans Jul 2 '13 at 10:48
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Graphic Design Questions

Should go to GraphicDesign.SE :)

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This is already covered by the belongs on an other site off-topic reason –  Pesikar Jun 26 '13 at 12:55
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What about the partial UX questions? Dealing with topics like English language, cogsci, etc.

These questions are partially within UX scope but we do not have a clear rule so as when to migrate them and when to answer them here.


Slightly less tricker than those are the 'review/help' questions. People often come in saying I have X problem, what should I do? Sometimes, I can see that they do not know how to handle the problem and cannot show their own approach which is fine. But, sometimes it is plain 'Do my work for me!'. How should these be handled?

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Partial UX questions aren't really Off Topic for the site. They might not be a particularly good fit for the site, but each one is really going to have to be judged on its own merits. Not sure an explict Off Topic reason can be constructed around these type of questions as each one is going to be different to the next. –  JonW Jun 21 '13 at 7:50
    
The 'do my work for me' question is a bit of a problem on all StackExchange sites. I think such questions would covered by the new 'unclear what you're asking / too broad' on-hold reasons. However I think it might be the case we just suck-it-and-see to determine what is and isn't working out. –  JonW Jun 21 '13 at 7:53
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what about questions that concern the usability of code bases ?

i always think that code has three goals: to function (i.e. to compute 2+2 as 4); to provide a good user experience for those who need the tools that it generates; but crucially also to provide a good user experience for those that maintain, adapt and extend.

essentially developers are the users of tools just in the same way as any end user is a user of the tool that the developer creates.

does the community think that the topic of usable code bases from a developers perspective falls within the remit of ux.stackexchange ?

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Such questions would probably be a bit too localized to be of use to a wider audience. It's more of a coding best-practice than a UX issue, I think. We do cater for some type of questions like this already though, for instance there is a Command-line tag with some questions in it, but that's probably the closest that we have –  JonW Jul 4 '13 at 7:50
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I think this really depends on the question, so it shouldn't be off topic by default. –  Pesikar Jul 4 '13 at 12:07
    
I don't think a vote down here is appropriate, express your opinion or leave it ! –  ColinSharpe Jul 4 '13 at 14:11
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In contrary to the main site, down-votes on meta do mean I don't agree with this answer. So I don't think these questions are by default off-topic and certainly don't deserve their own closing reason. –  Pesikar Jul 5 '13 at 14:27
    
i misunderstood, my mistake, I also read the meta about explaining down votes and how it shouldn't be mandatory and agreed with the conclusion of that discussion –  ColinSharpe Jul 10 '13 at 22:13
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Dark Patterns / Persuasive Design

There are two main classes of questions here, with the first (Dark Patterns) being the easier of the two to spot (in my opinion). The definition from http://darkpatterns.org/ will help to illustrate my point:

A Dark Pattern is a type of user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills.

Normally when you think of “bad design”, you think of the creator as being sloppy or lazy but with no ill intent. This type of bad design is known as a “UI anti-pattern” Dark Patterns are different – they are not mistakes, they are carefully crafted with a solid understanding of human psychology, and they do not have the user’s interests in mind.

I don't really foresee designers asking about how to trick users/customers, but maybe "stating the obvious" is worthwhile for the benefit of the community? The flip-side would be a designer who has seen a dark pattern used "effectively", and then frames a question around it. My gut instinct would be that it will likely lead to a discussion, rather than a straightforward answer most of the time, so it becomes a grey area.

Which brings me to the second class of questions (persuasive design). This becomes much harder to classify outright, but there have been a couple of books published recently that tries to make the case for (among other things):

  • Keep customers engaged by reinforcing the behaviors you desire.
  • Turn desire into commitment by using emotion to defeat rational behavior.
  • Escalate customers’ commitment and use loss aversion to keep them there.

These examples are from the book blurb of "Evil by Design" (Wiley, June 2013), and carries support from both Nielsen and Norman. Personally I find the topic very interesting, and I think designers need to be aware of how people are influenced daily, but I would not advocate designing such products.

At the moment a question about "conversion rate" is seen as on-topic, and it speaks directly to the business goals / challenges UX designers face every day. However, when would these start to move into the domain of marketing / psychology / cognitive science "trickery" (for lack of a better word). In a similar vein, I imagine "gamification" may also be used in a "dark" way.

I suppose the challenge is in recognising that these techniques can also be used "for good". Is this a case of "I'll know it when I see it", and should we not worry too much since the darker-flavoured questions may be few and far between? We could be faced with potentially rephrasing questions based on moral/ethical grounds. How do other StackExchange sites deal with these "grey areas"?

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Personally I don't think such questions should be asked here. It's like dark-patterns - sort of UX related, but ethically dubious. It's kind of like asking about hacking questions on StackOverflow / Security.SE - kind of on-topic, but not really welcome. However I don't think we actually get enough of them to worry about having a specific Off Topic reason for not allowing them, just take them as they come I think. –  JonW Jul 4 '13 at 13:00
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We actually have a "dark patterns" tag and it's use is mostly "is this a dark pattern/why", and I think that's a fair enough reason to ask a question here –  Ben Brocka Jul 4 '13 at 14:54
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I think each of these questions should be evaluated on it's on merits and these questions shouldn't be banned outright. –  Pesikar Jul 5 '13 at 14:26
    
Can't the concepts explored in a dark pattern be applied in an ethical way ? Much like black hat hacking techniques can be used for good purposes. Knowledge is knowledge, ethics is in the application of knowledge. –  ColinSharpe Jul 10 '13 at 22:17
    
on 'persuasive design' - what about designing seat belts in a way that persuades children to put them on ;-) –  ColinSharpe Aug 15 '13 at 17:50
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Everything that has nothing to do with electronics.

That way we can get rid of questions like A better condom user experience

EDIT: Lots of downvotes. Does anyone know another way to get rid of questions like that one?

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Why so many downvotes? I mean, condoms, come on. –  Jop Jul 8 '13 at 16:23
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While I agree that I don't want to be reading about condoms, that's beside the point. I think the down votes here are because people actually like seeing non-CS related UX questions. User Experience is much broader than just dealing with web applications and there are interesting problems presented for UX in real-world/non-computer questions. –  norabora Jul 8 '13 at 17:13
    
One of the commonly cited UX reads is Don Norman's "The Design of Everyday Things" - and the scope of this is about phones & car switches & audio equipment - and indeed door handles... –  PhillipW Jul 9 '13 at 20:49
    
To me UX is not just an electronically based concept, its any situation where the steps a user takes through a process or during interaction with something can be designed, so it very much applies to physical objects, including condoms. The lessons learned from carefully designing one thing, or observing and discussing good / poor design in another, electronic or not, can often be applied to other design processes –  ColinSharpe Jul 10 '13 at 22:15
    
Ok, but does anyone else know a way to get rid of questions like that? –  Jop Jul 11 '13 at 7:36
    
Why get rid of a perfectly valid question from the site ? –  ColinSharpe Jul 11 '13 at 13:01
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