In my monthly column Ask UXmatters, our panel of UX experts answers our readers’ questions about a broad range of user experience matters. To get answers to your own questions about UX strategy, design, or research or any other topic of interest to UX professionals in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your questions to: [email protected].
The following experts have contributed answers to this edition of Ask UXmatters:
- Mark Baldino—Co-Founder at Fuzzy Math
- Ronnie Battista—UX Practice Lead at Slalom Consulting
- Leo Frishberg—Principal, Phase II
- Pabini Gabriel-Petit—Principal Consultant at Strategic UX; Publisher and Editor in Chief, UXmatters; Founding Director of Interaction Design Association (IxDA); UXmatters columnist
- Ben Ihnchak—Co-Founder at Fuzzy Math
- Jordan Julien—Independent Experience Strategy Consultant
- Gavin Lew—Executive Vice President of User Experience at GfK
- Baruch Sachs—Senior Director, User Experience at Pegasystems; UXmatters columnist
- Janet Six—Principal at Lone Star Interaction Design; UXmatters Managing Editor and columnist
- Daniel Szuc—Principal and Co-Founder of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd.
- Jo Wong—Principal and Co-Founder of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd.
Q: Many of us have entered the UX arena because we want to help people and make the world a better place. How can we prevent—or overcome—the misconception that UX design is just bells and whistles, as opposed its to being an integral part of product strategy?—from a UXmatters reader
“Great question! Indeed, many UX professionals see User Experience as a vocation that enables us to make the world a better place,” replies Ronnie. “It’s easy to see how that aspiration translates when you’re designing products and services that improve the lives of disadvantaged people. (One example of this is UX for Change.) But it’s a bit harder when you’re designing the Benefits section of an employee intranet. Nevertheless, I suggest that this is just a matter of perspective. For example, when using that intranet, a new mother who has had a difficult pregnancy might need to figure out how to get her tests covered by her medical insurance. She has enough going on in her life without needing the additional burden of having to decipher a hot mess of a Web site.
“Changing the world isn’t just about the big things that have direct impact on many people’s lives. When we help people save time in completing their tasks, we contribute to the additional time they have for doing the things they want and need to do. If we reduce users’ stress level or give them a momentary feeling of accomplishment, we’re helping to change the world.
“So be mindful of the changes you make in everything you do. Recognize them, evangelize them, and make sure your product teams and executives realize their benefits. ‘Thou shalt practice UX with human-centric integrity’ is the last and most important of the UX Strategy Commandments I wrote about in a previous Strategy Matters column, ‘10 Commandments of UX Strategy.’ In that column, I wrote:
‘As a UX Strategist, I believe that we have a moral and ethical imperative to ensure that what we create, both within and outside our profession, should ideally improve the lives of others—and at the very least, do no harm.’”
“I’ve often said that I got into User Experience because I want to make the world a better place,” answers Pabini. “In fact, the very first edition of my column On Good Behavior was titled “First Do No Harm.” In that column, I outlined some important design principles ‘whose violation either interferes with users’ work, resulting in frustration for users, or actually harms their work.’
“The best UX professionals care deeply about people. For them, making the decision to pursue a profession in User Experience is an altruistic impulse. Through empathy, we can understand the people for whom we create design solutions. As a consequence, our solutions will truly meet their needs and make their lives better in ways large and small.”
Working with Companies That Value User Experience
“What is spectacular about being a great UX designer is the truly sincere desire to improve the world,” responds Leo. “Many of us want to help change the world for the better.
“The question the reader has posed implies that businesses share that mission, but that is not typically the case. The purpose of a business is to create customers—so said Peter Drucker back in 1954, and it’s still true today. If improving the world supports a company’s mission, UX design will have a place in the company’s strategy. However, because many of today’s business leaders have not yet learned the value of design as a business strategy, they aren’t aware of how design can improve their processes, adoption rates, and top- and bottom-line growth. Nevertheless, in most businesses, the goal of User Experience is to improve business outcomes. But they relegate improving experience outcomes for users to the status of a positive side effect.
“Now, I don’t want to leave you with a completely negative point of view. Of course, there are companies for which user experience is a primary driver in creating value for customers—and, thus, business value. Seek those companies out and engage with them. But, if you find yourself working in a company that hasn’t adopted this point of view, you’ll have some effort in front of you.
“Consider doing the following to help change your company’s approach to User Experience:
- Identify individuals who have greater influence than you do—such as program managers, product managers, or lead technologists—and who agree that improving the user experience will bring more customers.
- Help team members in other disciplines to understand the breadth and depth of User Experience, so they can be your advocates among their peers and with business leaders. Offer tech talks and brown-bag lunch discussions. Send people short articles. Engage others in hallway conversations about recent successes at other companies, and show them how the competition is doing things.
- When small opportunities deepen a UX engagement, jump on them—even if something isn’t one of your usual responsibilities. For example, showing how a small user-research effort can pay dividends down the line—without incurring exorbitant costs—may help you to overcome misunderstandings about the value of research.
- If your company is engineering driven, partner with respected tech leads and help them to improve their desired outcomes—going well beyond the pixels. Engage them in short discussions about eliminating certain user-interface elements altogether to simplify and improve the user experience. They will appreciate being able to prune maintenance and support costs by eliminating code.
“Naturally, achieving all of this will take some time, but by engaging in such discussions, you can begin revealing the true impact of User Experience on a product’s value, as well as on business costs.”
“The reality is that great UX design can differentiate products, attract customers, and drive superior business results, so there is no inherent contradiction between investing in User Experience and a business focus on creating customers and profits,” states Pabini. “As Jim Nieters and I wrote in our Leadership Matters column, ‘The Future of UX Leadership: Radical Transformation’:
‘Building a UX practice that can truly transform an organization and differentiate its products from those of its competitors requires having a number of elements in place—elements that are necessary to ensure our success. … If your organization doesn’t provide those elements—and if, after attempting to foster the necessary organizational changes, it seems unlikely that you can achieve them—you should leave and find work in an organization that affords many of those elements. … If you’re a UX leader who cannot be successful in a particular situation, bail. If you don’t, you’ll be judged for the quality of the team’s work and its lack of impact—regardless of the organizational reasons behind it.’
Plus, as research has shown:
‘Design-led companies outperform their competitors financially by 228%. Great design increases profit margins.’”