This article is part of a multi-part series where I’ll discuss key “soft skills” UX professionals can use to survive in Enterprise that are often the hardest to master and that design schools and boot camps seldom teach.
When I was a kid sitting in math class, my mind would wander a lot. The details of working through an algebra problem didn’t interest me. I saw answers in my head in a very different way than what the teacher was working out on the chalkboard. When called upon I could often give the right answer, but when asked to demonstrate how I arrived at the solution, I would respond “I just figured it out.” I thought being and looking smart was all that mattered. Well, I was wrong. The teacher wanted me to show the work, not only to answer the question more fully but to also share that knowledge with the rest of the students in my class.
I learned throughout my career that having the right answer is never enough. I had to be able to explain how the answers came to be. Sharing the process of creating solutions is one of the most powerful ways to show value and establish a connection.
In the UX Design industry, a select few practitioners are fortunate enough to work within organizations that already understand the necessity of their skills. Their days are happily filled with the challenges of just getting real work done. They do not have to expend the bulk of their energy first fighting for the right to do that work.
For the rest of us, it’s a constant struggle. Trying to make sure UX has a seat at the product development table often feels like a battle as epic as the one at Winterfell. It also may be one that, depending on your organization, is more soul-crushing than worthwhile, but always, always make the attempt. Why? The answer is because people can, and will, often surprise you. Those attempts can catalyze change, whether it’s immediately visible or not.
Those attempts are what lead to progress.
Ok, so let’s assume you’re now ready to go for it and you’ve decided to bring everyone together for some deep “Design Thinking” sessions and explain the process to them. You got your whiteboard, your post-its, your value mapping categories, and your deck of design process infographics. It will be great, right?
Not exactly. Just hold on a second. There are other factors to consider. The main one being; if you’re in an organization that doesn’t value design, the last thing your executives and non-designer colleagues want or need is for you to take up their valuable time playing mapping games or sitting through a UX explainer PowerPoint presentation while you extoll the value of design methodologies in some didactic fashion with the attitude that you’re just going to make them “get it” through sheer force of will.
If that in any way resembles your plan, please just don’t. Start with accepting that they don’t get it. They don’t have to get it. “Getting it” is your job. What you need to do is convey value. You have to connect the dots from your value proposition to what they already prioritize. Sure, you can educate about the experience design process along the way, but there’s a way to do it that still keeps the focus on establishing a connection and gaining their buy-in. All the Post-it exercises in the world will not give your internal stakeholder team the full picture unless you can communicate it in their language.
Keep in mind that internal teams, just like end users, are focused on what matters to themselves first and foremost. Understandably so, as they each have their own work and metrics for success. Ask yourself, how does what you do positively impact what they do? Define the answer and…
Show. The. Value.
Ditch the design-centric jargon and just be clear and straightforward. It requires some finesse, but with practice, it becomes second nature.
The lesson that eluded my grade-school self was this; learning works best when you meet people where they are and make room for everyone to participate. I could have shared my alternative solutions to the math problems and made the class that much richer had I understood that.
I feel like maybe you’re starting to see the bigger picture now, aren’t you? Like you’re getting that what we’re really solving is a communication problem, not an educational one. The goal is never to make executives, internal stakeholders or colleagues feel like they have to understand your work. The goal is to make your work relevant to theirs. And just as sometimes happens on the journey to create great solutions, once we uncover that the actual problem is different from our assumption, we recalibrate our approach. In this case, the actual problem is a need to refine the communication path from design to internal stakeholder.
You could say we need to apply UX process to the art of promoting UX process as part of our UX process.
You could say we need to apply UX process to the art of promoting UX process as part of our UX process. I know, so very meta but accurate just the same. Communication is an interaction path that can be designed. And you do it all the time whether you’re conscious of it or not. You decide on your choice of words (content), the manner you will say them (presentation) the order in which you will express them (interaction flow), the facial expressions and body language you will use (feedback) all while keeping your intended goal in mind. You do all of this without really thinking about it. So why not add more intentionality around it in the pursuit of better outcomes? I mean, that’s the heart of what we do right? We reduce effort to make it easier for people to achieve their goals and objectives, Applying that same lens to our daily interactions, they then become a bit of a litmus test for how well we can solve for an experience of any kind. A series of well-constructed conversations held with key people in your organization each framed in a way each person can relate to = a solid strategy for communicating the value of UX.
Even those who seem firmly entrenched in their narrow view of design can be persuaded with arguments that resonate with them as individuals. The trick is finding the right way to package those arguments for your intended audience. Breaking down the road to the solutions takes people on the journey with you, and by the time you’re done, you will have their buy-in for what comes next. Not only that, but your converts also become the biggest advocates in the organization for what you’re trying to accomplish. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to witness a non-designer colleague speak the language of UX accurately after learning it from you then you already know it is one of the coolest things ever.
As User Experience professionals, the experience of working with us should be as effortless as the solutions we’re attempting to design. Communication is a key part of that experience.
Treat communicating the work to be done as a design problem and you will unlock amazing results.