UXing Your UX: How to Make Others Care About Your Design Work

At last year’s IxDA Interaction15 Conference Mike Monteiro gave a keynote speech about the ways in which designers screw up client presentations. His main point was that if you can’t sell your design work, you might as well not even do design work, because we all have to sell in order for our designs to be implemented. In this article I summarize Monteiro and explain how designers can “UX their UX,” using design skills to present their work such that others see its value. The below is relevant to all designers, whether selling to an external client or to internal stakeholders.

Businesses don’t inherently care about UX, so you need to be clear about how your work benefits the company. Businesses care about making money. Designers know that great UX is a fantastic means of solving user needs, which usually equates to making money, but businesses care about the end game — so they need to be convinced that your design will lead to a higher bottom line. This requires selling your work and its value. In order to do this successfully, you need to speak in terms that are relevant to your client. They are not design experts, nor do they inherently care about design. As a result you need to frame your pitch in terms of the audience’s understanding of business success. If you can tell the client, “We observed through research and testing that this design decision leads to users signing up for your product at a higher rate, which will result in greater advertising revenue,” they’ll be much more likely to care than if you say, “Users enjoy the interaction design on this page.”

You are the design expert, and it’s your job to act like one. You were hired because you possess skills that your client does not have. It is your job to use your expertise to help the client achieve business goals, not to be your client’s friend or to make them happy. Just as users often struggle to articulate their needs, so too do businesses — which means they will often ask that you do things that you, the expert, know run contrary to the client’s business goals. So a happy client is not a barometer of success, and you should not strive to please your client every day. It is your job to do great design work (read: work that solves a need for the client’s users while also aligning with the client’s business goals) and communicate your work’s value so that the client understands and adopts it. As Monteiro says, no client will come back to you in two months, after a surge in user retention and new adoption of their product, and say “I’m still pissed that you talked me out of that one feature.” Instead, they’ll respect your willingness to disagree and will be more likely to hire you again in the future.

You are not the user. Do your best to avoid saying “I”, and by all means cut the phrase “I think” completely out of your vocabulary. Instead, phrase your recommendations in terms of what you observed and what your research revealed. Starting sentences with “We observed that users did X when presented with Y” or “Research made it clear that the real problem is…” shows that you’ve done the work and that your recommendations are grounded in data, not opinion. Further, it provides the client with confidence that your solution is the right one for their specific customers.

In sum, doing great design work does not equate to success as a designer. Successful designers are able to explain how their designs solve user problems and achieve business goals. Try UXing your UX — thinking about your audience’s needs and how your audience thinks — in order to fully demonstrate your design’s value.