How to Advocate and Articulate User Experience!
It’s getting better and better but still, how many times have you had to justify why user experience matters and what it actually means?
As a UX teacher and UX designer, I often find that people do not understand user experience design. I mean, not just the stakeholders but also the designers themselves. If I am being honest, this isn’t totally their fault, UX is a pretty new field, and the design itself is subjective. There are also different reasons why people barely understand user experience design, and one of them is culture.
Every time we have our UX Bootcamp, I usually start by saying, “The difference between a UX designer and an artist is that a designer creates a solution using data but an artist by using emotions.” What I mean when I say that is that there is no place for subjectivity amongst UX designers.
Everyone is a “designer,” but not everyone understands the UX designer’s challenge. There are many people who know little or nothing about design but who have the authority to oversee and dictate the design practice.
In this article, I will share tactics and strategies that will help you convince stakeholders that your decisions are the best choice.
Designer vs. Stakeholder: Is there a shared understanding of UX design?
To successfully cover how to convince stakeholders, we must first understand their perceptions and beliefs about designs. We also need to fully understand what the user experience design space is all about.
Look vs. Value
A stakeholder wants all the aesthetics! Often, this is at the expense of the product value.
A couple of years ago, when I was working for a large consultancy agency, we created UX for a German enterprise brand. The main goal was to simplify onboarding and make it more engaging.
The first design iteration was terrific, but the second iteration revealed a massive gap in our work. During the second iteration, stakeholders prompted phrases such as add a button here, move it here, and so on. These discussions led us to light vs. dark mode, yellow color vs. green color, and one button vs. three buttons. As you can imagine, we forgot about the primary goal of simplifying onboarding and making it more engaging for the users.
People often look at something and react without considering the project’s original intent. Instead of focusing on the product value, a team (such as ours) might be tempted to find a compromise about the product look, in other words, to save the product design from rainbow Kamasutra. This isn’t a bad idea, but the original intent that focuses on the project’s value is the UX designer’s goal and should always be considered.
Why are stakeholders requesting more aesthetics?
In recent times, UX design is gradually becoming more about aesthetics than about problem-solving. Only a few people still perceive UX designers as artists responsible for making stuff more professional.
UX is a new term that has evolved over the past decades and continues to evolve. Too many companies were and are still trying to develop fancy words that cause miscommunication and set wrong expectations.
Answer this question: what is the difference between UX, CX, UCD, and HCI? UX has almost completely replaced graphic or web design as we used to know it. Apart from that, designers are trying to grow popularity by redesigning large companies’ websites without any clue what the business needs are, thereby focusing on aesthetics.
Everyone is obsessed with how things look more than how they work!
The transition from traditional design (the look of designs) to using a design as a competitive advantage isn’t quite there yet. The result of this ongoing process is that some designers and stakeholders tend to focus more on look than the design value itself. It happened with us, too; the product look was more important than the product value.
Everyone is a designer, but is everyone a UX designer?
Let’s be honest, everyone knows good design when they see it. The same can be said for other arts, such as music. I may not know how to play an instrument, but I know a pleasing tune when I hear it.
So many of us use many different apps daily, which influences our opinion of how things work or should work. This means that every time we see a design, we already have an unconscious expectation about it.
As a designer, imagine a sprint demo or design review, all your work is exposed, so it naturally attracts more opinions and ideas than any other area in the organization. Everyone has suggestions and recommendations.
The continuous occurrence of non-experts having an opinion about your design work is, unfortunately, gradually becoming more and more integrated into the design process.
Therefore, before starting the discussion about a design, you should know these so that you can educate your team and stakeholders:
- UX designers do much more than just design beautiful things. We add value to the products. Do you remember Myspace, the social network before Facebook? Facebook destroyed Myspace with a better user experience and an understanding of the user’s needs and motivation. Isn’t the like button still one of the most popular features?
- People tend to emphasize the more visual side of the product instead of its value. You need to remember and reiterate that it is not about look but about the value that the design creates. Ask yourself, why is this product or feature important?
- Everyone has their expectations of a design. Try to familiarize yourself with their design preferences and use them to your advantage.
Misconception Amongst Designers
Let’s do a quick experiment.
If you know a UX designer, ask them this question: what makes a good design? You will hear a lot of different answers to the same question; a good design solves business and user pain points, a good design should be desirable or easy to use, etc…and they will all be correct. Still, despite their slight nuance, the one thing that we often forget is that the users influence our design.
As a designer, you can develop an excellent design based on user research. But, if you fail to communicate your designs with stakeholders or the team, you risk the design being completely different from what you intended in the end.
It’s almost impossible, but the design has to be supported by everyone. Effective design communication and strong relationships are as powerful as an excellent design solution, so I strongly advocate that design should be participatory. We, as designers, should design not for stakeholders but with stakeholders.
So, what makes a good design?
A good design solves a problem, is desirable, and is supported by everyone. The keyword here is “everyone.” Your design needs to get approval from the whole team and all stakeholders!
Understanding stakeholders; why is this important?
As UX designers, we are good at defining user needs and their pain points. But often forget that we need to do the same thing for the people who hold the keys to our success. We forget the essentials that we need to create relationships with stakeholders and other influencers in the team. We must get in their heads, find out what makes them tick, and with this information, approach them in a way that is productive and valuable for everyone.
Okay, let’s look at it this way, imagine that you will be presenting the design to stakeholders during a meeting. What kind of distractions can the stakeholders have? They can be dealing with things in their personal and professional life that are more important to them than the current design project. They can also have completely different perspectives and experiences. Many various factors can influence their decision-making. How would you make sure that you present your case to them effectively?
“They are not designers, and they don’t understand” that’s not true. Stakeholders’ reactions to our design often have an underlying situational explanation that we might never know about.
Engage with them on a more personal level, see their perspectives and understand them. Create a shared experience. You can gain someone’s trust and commitment little by little over time. The goal is to learn how to approach and respond to them.
Understand the stakeholders! They are just as important as the end-users.
Set feasible objectives!
Recently, I participated in a meeting where a designer presented a new feature for a product to stakeholders. In the first 20 minutes of the meeting, the stakeholders were presumably still on track. But once the designer asked how do you like the new feature? The stakeholders immediately started asking a bunch of questions. The designer’s responses were nothing but broad, using phrases such as “from my experience,“ “from my perspective,” and so on. These responses did not convince the stakeholders, and neither was the designer allowed to discuss another product feature.
What two things can we learn from the above story?
First, set objectives for yourself, e.g., getting agreement from the stakeholders. Second, it is the designer’s job to keep the meeting on track and get the stakeholders’ agreement on the design.
When preparing for a meeting, remember why you are there and do not allow anyone else to lead the discussion in a different direction.
Necessary Strategies in Responding to Stakeholders
We have reached the point where you are just one step away from having the design discussion.
You have set an objective for the meeting — To get agreement from stakeholders.
You have done an excellent job understanding stakeholders’ personalities and building a relationship with them.
Most importantly, you now know that you need to focus on the value of the product instead of the look and that the design’s success depends on team agreement.
Now, you need to know what you should say to achieve your objective of getting the stakeholders’ agreement.
To successfully get agreement from the stakeholders about your design, you need to have answers to these three questions:
What problem does it solve?
With our designs, as UX designers, we are solving problems. Every decision we make should reflect that. This is an idea associating your design with an agreed-upon metric. Stakeholders can easily ask many questions and completely forget about the purpose of the meeting. This is where you remind them to focus on the metric that was agreed-upon. Without a metric, the conversation can quickly transform into the monster of addressing each concern.
How does it affect the user?
You are the only window between users and stakeholders. Your response should always represent the user. This means that you have to understand the user. You can get to know the users through observations and usability studies and use existing research as evidence for your design decision(s). Tell stakeholders a story about your users and how your design will help solve their pain points.
Why is it better than the alternative?
We need to demonstrate to stakeholders why our solution is better than the alternatives, including those suggested by the stakeholders. We want to ensure that our response includes examples, data, options, comparisons, or any other visual demonstration of why our designs are the best choice for both the user and business. Your answer to this question is your opportunity to talk about why your design is better and go ahead to visually show why and how your design will make a difference.
These three questions create the foundation for every response you provide to stakeholders. It would be best if you communicated that your design solves a problem, makes it easy for users, and is better than the alternatives.
The Best Tactics in Responding to Stakeholders
While strategy is the action plan that takes you where you want to go, the tactics are the individual steps and actions that will get you there.
Show a comparison
Too often in meetings, we talk about design pros and cons, but our words are not effectively demonstrating the effect on user experience. Therefore, an excellent tactic is to show a comparison between your proposed design and the suggested changes. Show them side by side that the differences between the two are apparent.
Propose an alternative
The next tactic for responding is to show a design alternative. Show how you explored different variations of design. There is always more than one way of solving a problem. Any solution you propose will create space for more conversation, whether right or wrong.
Give them a choice
Good design is about unity. All design elements support each other to create the whole. This tactic is about giving a choice to stakeholders between what they want and a new thing they are suggesting.
For example, you know that the header goal is to guide users to the form page, and now stakeholders are asking you to add a button next to the form button. Give the stakeholders a choice to decide what is more critical, the form submission or a new CTA.
Ask others to weigh in
Show that people around you support your design decisions. You are not alone in the room. Ask other people to weigh in. That way, you will be able to convince stakeholders that others are already in agreement with you. By doing this, you will also take pressure off of yourself. When you let other people take their stand, you tactically avoid the awkward position of disagreeing with a stakeholder.
Postpone the decision
If all tactics fail, and you feel that the conversation is going in the wrong direction and can negatively impact the user experience, postpone the decision! Often, good ideas at the moment turn out to be poor choices in the future. Lead with “yes,” “Yes, I see your point. We need to find the right solution. How about I take the next few hours to work on it, and then we can check-in.” Iterating design is always a good idea.
The ideal response!
We will be dividing the ideal response into 6 phases:
Thank you, repeat, prepare
First, it is essential to create a natural transition between stakeholders’ feedback and your response. Start your answer with thank you — “Thank you for coming up with this idea to change colors on the CTA buttons.” Repeat stakeholder’s suggestions -”I know you would like to increase account dashboard engagement with the users by changing the CTA color.” Prepare stakeholders for your response — “We’re intentionally using the red color CTA’s to maintain consistency across design, so let’s talk about the best way to help you.”
Identify the problem
We always need to keep the stakeholders’ attention on the goal. Otherwise, the conversion can quickly switch directions and become unproductive. Always repeat the problem your design is solving, and ensure that everyone is on the same page. For example, “the issue we’re trying to address is that when a user sees the interface for the first time, they are confused by several buttons and don’t know what each one means and what they need to do next.”
Describe your solution
Tell a story about your design and how it connects to solving the problem. For example, “Our solution is to capture the bulk of the user’s attention by highlighting the primary button. We will use a red button against outlined buttons. As a result, the button will stand more against other buttons and unconsciously lead users towards engagement. This solution will create an invisible order in how users should consume information and react”.
Empathize with the users
Emphasize and remind Stakeholders that, as UX designers, we are solving problems for specific users. Say something like, “We don’t want our users to be overwhelmed by the number of options in the main header. Instead, we can provide more value to them by reducing choices. “
Appeal to the business
Our designs should be motivated by the need to grow a business. Convince stakeholders that your design will impact the business. Bring up the goals, the KPIs, and other metrics. Here’s an example, “We believe our solution will increase conversion because it reduces the choices users need to make, and fewer options mean faster decision time which in turn increases engagement with the users.”
Lock in agreement
Getting an agreement is the most crucial phase of your IDEAL response. Without an agreement, everything that you present is just an idea. Put stakeholders in a position where they need to decide to keep the project moving forward. Ask them directly, “Do you agree”? “Do you agree that we will provide greater visibility and improve the experience? Or do you think we need to change CTA colors and risk getting lost in the other options?”
To sum up, design articulation is vital to creating a successful design. UX designers do not make final decisions but the stakeholders. You, as UX designers, mot be prepared on how to articulate design.
This article is highly inspired by Tom Greever’s book “Articulating design decisions.”