When I talk to people who work in the User Experience field, I often hear a common refrain:
- “It’s hard to make my organization value UX.”
- “I can’t convince my clients that we need to do user research.”
- “My organization constantly cuts the amount of user experience work we should be doing.”
- “I feel trumped by the business and technology teams. How can I make them invest more in user experience?”
Getting an organization to invest in user-centered design and user experience can be challenging. Politics, organizational structures, past experiences, and ingrained processes can make change difficult.
However, many UX professionals approach this challenge ineffectively by trying to push their own UX agenda without considering the mindset and viewpoints of their clients and co-workers. Only by understanding the needs of others and reducing friction between UX and the organization can you successfully increase user experience’s influence.
In the book Switch: How to Change When Change Is Hard, authors Chip and Dan Heath describe that in order for change to occur, one has to consider 3 interrelated factors: rational, emotional, and environmental factors.
The rational thinking side of our brain provides us planning and direction. When we think rationally, we try to determine the best course of action based on the information we have available.
- Resistance is often the result of a lack of clarity. When we try to sell UX with generic points such as “it’s really important to focus on the user”, we’re not giving crystal-clear direction, causing decision-makers to have to try to interpret how to move forward. This makes it very difficult to make any visible change or progress. Saying “if we talked to 10 users before we start this project, it will help us identify gaps and design a product that better meets their needs” provides a much clearer direction than “we need to be more user-centric.”
- Focus on the value UX provides to others. In order for others to buy into UX thinking, we need to make it clear how our work provides value to others. Don’t make your coworkers and clients guess how you can help them reach their own goals, show them directly. For example:
- Business executives: show how UX can improve ROI
- Marketers: show how UX can increase engagement and clarify desired messaging
- Salespeople: show how UX can increase conversions
- Developers: show how UX can help prioritize features, decrease maintenance, and streamline development
- Customer service: show how UX can reduce support costs
- Aim for mutual understanding. Most importantly, actively listen to your coworkers’ and clients’ needs before you try to sell them on UX. Your conversations will be much more effective if you tailor your message to each individual’s knowledge and objectives. Ask them about their problems and approach solutions from a “how can I help you?” standpoint. Don’t make assumptions about people’s needs before you ask them directly. Also, aim to learn how you can benefit from them just as much as how they can benefit from you.
Only appealing to your colleagues’ rational side will give them direction without motivation. In order to cause change, you need to find ways to see problems and solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thought.
- See -> Feel -> Change. John Kotter and Dan Cohen (The Heart of Change) note that successful change efforts follow a sequence of “See -> Feel -> Change.” Present your team with evidence that makes them feel something, whether that be shock, happiness, anger, or hope. Think carefully about what you want them to see in order to generate a certain feeling. Tell stories when you present your work to bring humanity to your designs. The entire product team needs to feel empathy for users in order to gain an understanding of the problems that exist, and understanding leads to change.
- Engage the team in user research. One of the most effective ways of obtaining an emotional reaction is to engage your team and clients in observing user research. Watching users engage with a product first-hand helps the rest of your team develop empathy for your users, frequently leading to a desire to invest in creating a better user experience.
- Demonstrate progress by emphasizing accomplishments. One way to motivate action is to show that the team is making progress. Rather than only focusing on how much needs to change about an existing product, make an effort to show your team what’s already been accomplished. Use visuals to show a before-and-after view of your product experience, no matter how small the changes may be. Reminding the team of positive changes that have already been made helps encourage an investment in future improvements. Don’t focus only on the impact you have made, but rather on changes the entire team has made toward improving the experience.
What might appear as a people problem is often a situation problem. Make it easier for your organization to embrace change. Remove the friction that separates UX from the rest of the organization by changing the environment around you.
- Share your deliverables. Put your research findings, personas, flow diagrams, sketches, and wireframes up on a wall in your office. As people walk by, show them the work to help increase understanding and build support for future activities. Encourage other team members to do the same with their work to show interest in how their work is also leading to a better user experience.
- Shape your deliverables to fit the needs of your team. Be flexible with your approach to UX deliverables and how you present them. Listen carefully to the response you get to your work and adjust it to make it more effective. It may be that detailed reports work well for some people, and high-level summaries and visuals work better for others. The format of your work is less important than the ability for it to make an impact.
- Create co-working spaces. One way to reduce the divide between UX and the rest of the organization is to recognize that everyone can contribute to the user experience. Create physical spaces that allow people to come in and share their thoughts, post concerns, add ideas on a whiteboard, and sketch out concepts. Encourage all team members and clients to review the work in progress and to contribute their ideas. People will become much more invested in the process once they personally contribute to it.
The combination of influencing the mind, heart, and environment will help you increase support for user experience within your organization. As you interact with your team, however, it’s important to not be too over-zealous in your approach to introducing UX. Start small and introduce change gradually in order to build momentum. Above all, recognize that user experience can only be achieved through the collective work of all members of a product team. Understanding their roles and contributions is just as important as ensuring that they understand yours.