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UXers need to toughen up

June 2017 – Frank Gaine

Let’s face it, even in organizations with a mature design culture, businesses ultimately make decisions based on $, %, CAPEX, OPEX, economic modelling and other financial related considerations. Therefore, if UXers really want to be seen as more than those altruistic guys who are concerned with how the customer feels about X or Y, we need to be able to talk business. If we truly want to influence what organizations do, we also need to be politically aware and master our personal and influencing skills. Even to develop commercial toughness to compete in the cut and thrust of conversations about budgets, prioritization and resources. Not quite Gordon Gekko but definitely not Shaggy from Scooby Doo either. UXswitch spoke to respected design authorities for their thoughts on this matter.


UX veteran Gary Bunker, UX Director at theFore, told UXswitch “When you reduce it down to cold hard facts, UX/CX is about the bottom line.” Adding to this, Kwame Nyanning, VP Experience Design at McKinsey & Company said “I call it $X – it’s as import as CX and UX – it’s all about being able to describe the value at stake and identify the opportunity to pursue, based on business AND user experience priorities”. Doing so means the vision for the user is more likely to make it to market and less likely to lose out in cost saving measures or refocusing.


The design function is increasingly appearing at C-suite level so “there’s no point in asking for a seat at the top table if you can’t read the menu” said Giles Colborne, Founder at cxpartners. “Knowing how discounted cash flow works, for example, makes an enormous difference to how we’re perceived and how open our colleagues are.” adds Dylan Evans, Senior Design Lead for Digital User Experience at Philips Design.


Jared Spool of UIE said “If designers want to gain influence amongst the C-suite, they need to think of their interaction with those individuals as a designed experience.” Spool commented that a designer’s approach should very much depend on “the culture of collaboration or competition that occurs in those organizations”. Therefore, you don’t always have to be the design world’s Gordon Gekko, only in the appropriate situation.


Speaking about how designers can be perceived as more authorative, Nick Wiles, Head of User Experience at Atom Bank says that designers need to know about factors more than just financial. For example, if legislation or regulation affects the design of a product. “It’s not just the £’s and the %s, UXers need to understand the need from a regulatory perspective as well … sometimes a feature has to be the way it is due to a regulatory position, especially in the world of finance. Knowing this makes a better output and builds trust in the business”.


Being able to influence decisions makers of your argument is just as important, especially when the financial case is not critical. “I often say that my undergrad in Political Science is probably as valuable as any when it comes to taking UX up the ladder.” mentions Ronnie Battista, Practice Lead – Experience Design (XD) at Slalom. After all, if that age old Sales adage is to be believed, ‘people buy from people they like’.


However, Frank Elbert, Head of Product at 1%Club, stresses that good designers see the big picture and makes the necessary compromises where appropriate. “As designers we need to embrace that ‘design’ is sometimes really NOT the most important thing to focus on. Certain contexts require much more emphasis / investment on operational or engineering issues / challenges.”


So how do we equip ourselves in this regard? “Ideally it should start early in one’s career. Education programs for designers must recognize the importance of understanding how business really works” said John Buckley, UX Designer and Programme Co-ordinator for DesignFix at Frontend.com. He emphasised that even established designers should also hone their knowledge in this regard.


Tim Loo, Executive Director (Strategy) at Foolproof, also recommends existing designers to listen to the HBR Ideacast podcast. “It covers a whole range of management priorities – leadership, innovation, growth, customer centricity, strategy – and it often frames and contextualizes a lot of what design is for.” He reiterates that UXers are natural self-improvers and should divert some of their time into reading stuff outside of the echo chamber of UX. Thus becoming a more holistic designer and increasing the likelihood of our designs making it to market.

Therefore, in order to become more effective designers, we should get to grips with the language of business and work on our political awareness and influencing skills. What do you think?


For more UX career advice, go to UXswitch.com/thinking.


If you are looking for a design job or are looking for designers to join your organization, join UXswitch today.


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