Influence and Design Success

The art of letting others have your way

Things go much more smoothly when you allow things to happen instead of making them happen.

A friend and colleague told me this a long time ago. It has been a statement which has guided me throughout my career.

Many UX designers don’t actually design for themselves. We design for end-users. We position ourselves as champions of user motivations, objectives, and goals. We fight for the opportunity to represent users and represent them well. We spend days, months, and years getting as much information as we can to ensure users are delighted, but users aren’t the only ones we’re designing for.

Many UX designers also design for colleagues, superiors, companies, collaborators, etc. These groups have their own motivations, objectives, and goals. To be successful as advocates of users, we also need to understand what makes colleagues, superiors, companies, and collaborators “tick.” Ignore this and you’ll be pushing against a brick wall time and time again. Perhaps you already are.

Just as we do with end users, researching and understanding the motivations, objectives, and goals of your colleagues or superiors will provide a list of constraints from which you can work. The constraints are boundaries to use in your communication, but also something you can use to influence their decision making.

I believe influence, getting others to choose to do what you need them to do, is core to design success. It’s the art of letting others have my way.

The “A-ha!” moment.

Have you ever worked with someone who wants the last word? Sure, we all have. Did your attempts to get the last word in fail? Yep. Did it drive you crazy? Yep. Do you know in your heart of hearts, that person was wrong? YES!

Some years ago, early in my career, I was beating my head against a brick wall. That brick wall was the big boss. The beating took place during a product review. Time and time again, I provided guidance based on user research, design reviews, and user testing…data. Time and time again, I was met with responses like, “When I do this…” or “I want to do…”, with a mix of how the design should “feel.” These are all the warning signs we arm ourselves to battle against. As I countered with objective findings, I was met with statements like, “I find that hard to believe.” I was right and the boss was wrong. I stated the obvious and the boss didn’t care.

After the meeting (and sensing my frustration), my friend and colleague provided me with the guidance above. I’ll state it again.

Things go much more smoothly when you allow things to happen instead of making them happen.

As I sat and reflected on that statement, I began to think of the motivations the big boss might have had during the review. The review involved many members of the leadership team. My research pointed to behaviors and needs which were different to those the big boss believed in. Maybe, that conversation wasn’t really about being right or wrong. Maybe it wasn’t about being data driven. Maybe it was about the boss being heard and being heard in front of others. Maybe being heard in front of others was about getting credit for what was said. And there it was; the big boss’ motivation. Right or wrong didn’t matter, getting credit for the decisions did.

To ensure the business and users benefitted from my team’s work, I needed to find a way to provide the big boss with credit while ensuring he/she did what I needed he/she to do. The big boss provided the constraints for me, often without even needing to ask, and I had to learn how to communicate within those constraints.

During the next product review, I just listened. By listening, I understood the constraints from which to work. Instead of fighting for what I thought was right and what the data told me, I embraced those constraints, presented findings within those constraints, and the design path forward became obvious. The big boss was able to see the path without being told the path. The path was also the path I had intended all along.

Influence begets influence. By understanding motivations and constraints of those you work with, you can become influential not only as a designer, but also as a communicator, peer, colleague, and leader. So take a step back, listen to all those you design for, and let others have your way.