Challenging Conventional Assumptions About User Experience Design

Challenging Conventional Assumptions About User Experience Design

A common misconception that many organizations have about User Experience Designers is that our value comes solely in the form of our design artifacts or research deliverables.  Many see UX as a step in the process where we create wireframes, conduct usability testing, build prototypes, or make site maps.  Often we do this after being handed business requirements, and then we hand off our solutions to a visual designer or developer to complete the process. While all of these activities and artifacts are certainly a large part of our work, we need to challenge our organizations to think of us as more than the sum of our deliverables.

This article explores the way in which UX Designers can provide an increased level of thought leadership within organizations.

Advancing the ways in which UX Designers can add value

There are many ways in which UX Designers can provide value to an organization beyond the traditional deliverables of wireframes, usability reports, prototypes, etc. Our user-centric perspective and thought processes give us the ability to help:

  • Identify new opportunities that address unmet user needs: User Experience Designers can help uncover through research user needs that are currently unmet by competing products or services.  This research can lead to your organization addressing these needs before your competitors.  In this way, user research can do more than inform design decisions.  It can help to define the future direction of your products and services.
  • Evolve the definition of the “target audience”: Target audience is often defined by market research and buyer characteristics.  Things like “18-22 year old undergraduates with more than $25,000 in student loan debt.” User Experience Designers can evolve the target audience by adding behavioral based qualities and by developing personas.  Adding to the target audience with characteristics such as “Working students who need to balance schoolwork with a part time job, student organizations, and family obligations” can lead to entirely unique design approaches.
  • Prioritize projects based on those that will result in the most business and user value: User Experience Designers can help influence the project prioritization process by assigning user value to each proposed capability or service.  By adding user value as an aspect to prioritization along with business value and technical feasibility, products are more likely to be embraced by the end user and lead to increased business value as a result.
  • Evolve product strategy and define product roadmaps: User Experience Designers can help to define an experiential based product strategy that evolves the product based on addressing targeted user needs.  Compared to product roadmaps that are solely focused on adding in business-centric functionality, User Experience Designers can help to make sure that each added capability adds user value and maintains a cohesive experience.
  • Define holistic customer experiences across all touch points: Whether you call this “service design”, “holistic design”, or simply “good customer service,” UX Designers can bring valuable user-centric perspective to organizations that interact with customers across multiple touch points.  UX Designers can help design consistent and enjoyable experiences that customers have interacting with a company on the web, on the phone, through the mail, and on their mobile devices. This holistic perspective can increase brand value, customer loyalty, and market share by making sure that customers have a positive experience whenever they interact with your organization.
  • Craft experiences that are appropriate for various types of media and platforms: UX Designers can help businesses identify the media and platforms that will best reach the target audience and and what types of experiences are appropriate for those devices. Designing and developing for each platform (web, desktop, smart phones, devices like the iPad, etc.) takes a significant investment in time, resources, and budget.  UX Designers can help identify what will result in the greatest return on investment based on user research and an understanding of the context in which customers will be interacting with your product.
  • Validate user acceptance of a product: Usability testing and user research is not just about identifying issues with a given design.  Speaking with the intended target audience can help validate whether users are motivated to use your product, if it’s sufficiently differentiated from other products, and if you’ve correctly identified the needs that your design aims to address.  By conducting validation studies early on in a project, you can reduce the risk involved in waiting to validate the product until after it has been fully developed.
  • Optimize a product to increase conversions: A User Experience Designer’s job should not be finished once a design is handed over to the development team.  Post-implementation, UX Designers can help watch user activity through web analytics or further user testing to identify points in which users drop out of the conversion funnel.  We can help influence A/B and multivariate testing that can be used to tweak elements of an interface and identify which version of a design leads to the highest conversion percentage.
  • Identify how to best communicate brand values to the consumer: Your organization wants to communicate certain brand values. It’s easy for companies to push company-centric messaging.  User Experience Designers can contribute value by balancing the message that businesses want to push out to users with the best way of speaking the user’s language and connecting with them in a way that is engaging and easy to understand.

Challenges UX Designers face in trying to increase influence

Many of us recognize the value that User Experience Designers can bring to an organization beyond the traditional deliverables that companies have come to expect from us.  However, increasing our influence within an organization isn’t easy.  We often face a significant amount of resistance from others due to:

  • The impression that we’re stepping on other team members’ territory: Business Strategists may feel they “own” the product innovation process, Marketers may feel they “own” the ways of communicating with customers, Project Managers may feel they “own” the prioritization process, and Brand Managers may feel they “own” the way in which brand values are communicated.  This can make it difficult to influence each of these groups of people and to provide your own perspective as it relates to each of their roles.
  • Not having enough time to conduct appropriate research: In order to provide informed input and to provide a user-centric perspective, UX Designers have to come armed with user research.  It may become difficult to convince the project team that time needs to be allocated to conduct this research and that the insights you will get from research are going to give you value and long term benefits that make up for the initial time investment.
  • Not knowing when to involve us throughout the project lifecycle: UX Designers can provide unique value during each step of the project lifecycle from idea conception through post-implementation analysis.  Because of this, other team members may not know when to ask for input from UX Designers.
  • A resistance to changing the status quo: If your team is used to receiving traditional UX deliverables and asking for your contributions at specific steps in the project lifecycle, it may be difficult to challenge what has been the status quo.  It becomes difficult to explain that involving UX Designers in new ways can be more valuable than what has worked well in the past.

Suggestions on how to evolve the way organizations perceive User Experience Design

Overcoming these challenges may seem like an immense task.  However, there are several ways in which you can slowly but surely evolve the way your organization perceives User Experience Design:

  • Start small: If your organization is especially resistant to change, offer to to provide input in new ways on projects that are relatively small in scope or risk.  Teams are less likely to initially understand or welcome your unconventional contributions on highly visible projects.  Treat your initial attempts as pilot projects or case studies that can demonstrate the value you can bring.
  • Get support: Approach your manager or other leaders within the organization and explain to them what types of activities you want to try to inject into the organization.  Explain why these activities benefit both individual projects as well as the way that your organization approaches developing customer-centric solutions.  It’s easier to convince other areas of your organization the holistic value that UX Design can bring if you have support that can help communicate your message.
  • Present unsolicited ideas at appropriate moments: It’s quite possible that your team members don’t know what you can bring to the table beyond traditional deliverables.  As opposed to waiting to be asked to contribute in other ways, take initiative and demonstrate the value that you can provide.  It’s important to do this at appropriate moments when your input can help solve problems your team is facing or can tangibly influence the direction of a project.  The more visible and impactful your contributions, the more likely you will be asked to contribute more in the future.
  • Work with other team members, not against them: Be careful not to be too overbearing and remember that your team members’ perspectives are equally valuable.  It is important to recognize their perspective and to communicate with them in ways in which they can relate.  When explaining your own perspective, communicate it in a way that explains the value it will provide to the area of a project that is important to each individual team member.  Engage your team in User Experience Design, and encourage everyone to work towards a common goal.

Have you experienced trying to evolve the role of User Experience Design within your organization? What successes or failures have you experienced?

Designers spend much of their time thinking through problems from the ‘outside in.’ Contrasted with the ‘inside out’ approaches that typify corporate business agendas, this methodology focuses on the perspective of customers and end users when analyzing and crafting solutions. Applying this perspective to strategic work creates more genuine relevance. – Luke Wroblewski

Catriona Shedd

I am a User Experience Designer with a passion for making people’s lives better through design. I have helped over a dozen organizations obtain a competitive advantage by delivering great user experiences across desktop, mobile, tablet and other channels.

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  • I like your tip “Present unsolicited ideas at appropriate moments” because I've found that by providing a little ingenuity, a UX designer can have a major influence on a project. A new concept introduced at the right time may open the door to new opportunities for a client/team: a new service, or product option, or line of business, or solution.

    However, some people may have trouble learning when it's appropriate to chime in or stay quiet. I've had better success when I try to listen and understand the nature of the problem or objective before I share my suggestions. As a UX designer I try to collect and map as many concepts as possible — this helps me plan my exploration through the problem space. If I get a lot of resistance in one area, I can quickly change paths and influence thinking in another area.

  • inspireUX

    Good points, Chris. I agree it can often be hard to know when to best initiate new ideas. Often if you jump in too early, you'll get a quick “you don't know what you're talking about” type response. I think you're right in that it's often best to listen first, then act when you can provide the most value.

  • In some cases, I think clients simply expect those ideas from you when they hire you as a strategist rather than a designer. I'll be the first to admit that there may not be much difference, but in some cases I've seen projects say “you lead the collaborative design research effort including user interviews, inquiry, etc, analyze the competition, and lay out a strategy to differentiate ourselves from our competition, and we'll take it from there”. While sometimes those ideas stick and sometimes they strike out, it really does give you the opportunity to shape the project.

    By bringing up those ideas as the result of a research-backed process, and usually complete with a roadmap to incrementally achieve that vision, and tie that roadmap to real business goals, it's more likely those clients won't want to dismiss your ideas out of the gate.

    Keep up the great UX strategy writing Catriona, it's a breath of fresh air in this community.

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  • This article is great because it makes suggestions, discusses possible issues during implementation, and then suggests how to avoid those issues. Great advice. Well done!

  • inspireUX

    Thanks, Stacia!

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  • Can you share the link to your post on SXSW so we can just vote for you already? 🙂

  • inspireUX

    Sorry, I referenced this post in the SXSW post but the link to the actual voting page was below that link:

  • You got my vote Cat – would love to come and hear you speak! Are they going to record it?

  • inspireUX

    Thanks! I'm not sure if they record all the presentations or not, but I'll look into it if my presentation gets picked (that's a big if).

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