Typically, one of a UX designer’s main jobs is designing interactions, creating task flows and wireframes in the process. These core deliverables drive many projects and day-to-day activities. However, there’s another job that is just as important, but often gets overlooked or neglected: effectively communicating all of the hard work that you’ve put into the design to the cross-functional team on which you rely to bring these interactions into reality. In this article, I’ll focus on communicating with two specific types of team members: business people and developers.
In many ways, this communication job is harder than creating designs. It requires a lot of soft skills that can vary widely from person to person. There’s a secret here though: even though communication is hard, the main trait that we need to succeed, empathy, is common among UX professionals. A lot of articles and books have been written on empathy and user experience. Most of the time, however, we turn our empathy toward the customer or user for whom we are designing a solution. To succeed in communicating our designs, it is merely necessary to turn our empathy toward our colleagues in other disciplines.
The best part about turning our empathy toward our colleagues to develop effective ways of communicating with them and gain their understanding is that we already have the techniques in our UX toolbox. The three techniques that I’d like to cover in this article are:
- becoming a developer or business person
- building a colleague-empathy map
- doing participatory design
Becoming a Developer or Business Person
To gain a really deep understanding of your users, one of the best techniques is to actually become a user. If you want to design an ecommerce purchase flow, for instance, it’s very helpful to become a customer and experience the process. Doing this works equally well for both you and your colleagues. This doesn’t mean that you need to be a developer or a business person. But it does mean that it would certainly help to learn what it takes to develop your design or manage a product.
An effective way to start is by dedicating time toward learning the basics of business or software development—or how to do the work of whatever role you want to communicate with more effectively. You could do this simply by reading a book, taking an online course, going to some introductory meetups and events, participating in a workshop, or maybe even by earning continuing education credit at a local university.
No matter what tack you take, be sure to apply what you learn in real life. If you take an HTML/CSS course, dust off your old wireframes and build them yourself, for real. I think you’ll be surprised by how differently you’ll look at your prototype after doing that. Or, once you’ve read a marketing book, think about one of your cool startup idea and how to apply your newfound knowledge toward making your concept shine.
If you don’t know where to start, simply do some ethnographic research with team members that you respect, and ask them for some good starting points. As you apply your new skills, ask them to review your work and assess your progress. Not only will quality feedback help you to improve your skills, your colleagues will respect for your willingness to broaden your horizons. Plus, people feel good about helping people learn things they’re passionate about.