UX design: Are you preaching to the choir?

Bad UX design is expensive. You get it. But maybe they (still)…don’t.

Any kind of improvement, cumulative or radical, focused or systemic, requires transformation. For example, we can change business processes the way we think they should be changed, and call a meeting for the others to be updated and aware. Job completed.

The underlying factor behind any transformation is design. Yes, it’s true, whatever you bring about has a design component, even if it isn’t as slick as the latest version of your project management software. In the unlikeliness of being that businessman from the fourth planet that the Little Prince visited, any new process – or product – you’ve come up with is meant to be used by a bunch of people – your colleagues or external clients.

The challenge in any design is usability. To what extent the masses can/will adopt and use the new process without coming back to the old one is what really matters. Bad design is expensive because the ROI doesn’t pay the bill – time, resources, knowledge – of production.

In the era of digital everything, design has taken a huge leap. This quote couldn’t be more suitable to support our statement: “Design used to be the seasoning you’d sprinkle on for taste; now it’s the flour you need at the start of the recipe.”  (John Maeda, designer and technologist)

However, if you’re an enthusiast for making the user experience philosophy part of the business culture, you need more than quotes and good reasoning. The board’s support is pivotal to be user-centric in everything the business pursues. The challenge is how to get the people who make the decisions committed to this same philosophy?Earlier this month we talked with Dimitrios Konstantakatos, service designer of our digital team about the importance of the board’s buy-in for UX initiatives. These notes summarise the warm exchange and his experience-based opinions.

Becoming a UX design evangelist

“When it comes to UX design, most of the time you’ve got to evangelise, to become a UX advocate,” says Dimitrios. “But it’s not the take-it-or-leave-it type of evangelisation,” he adds.  

Indeed, finding the right balance between passion and strategic thinking is a good start for any UX design initiative that aims high. Getting the board involved is no piece of cake. You need, therefore, to outline a plan.   

Tip 1. Make persistence your energy booster and persuasiveness your omnipresent weapon in any encounter with the board or people that can help your UX design initiative to succeed.

“We frequently criticise the board’s passivity or lack of support when it comes to introducing and deploying approaches that break traditional ways…the thing is, that’s normal. As an advocate, your goal is to match, somehow, your agenda with the board’s agenda.”

Tip 2. Understand thoroughly short and long-term business goals to adjust your UX initiative in terms of time, scope and purpose. This exercise will help your pitch to resonate with the board members, and to be more powerful and consistent.

There is no way to go around UX design. “The sense of urgency, the need to embrace the user- experience philosophy as soon as possible, is a strong argument. You want to start using it as soon as possible,” advises Dimitrios, “but the board needs more”.

That statement leads us right into the next tip.

Don’t preach UX design to the choir but to the board

“Some cool UX design initiatives never take off because my colleagues go preaching to the choir. While getting other UX enthusiasts on your side is important, you have to get the blessing of the decisions makers; the guys up there giving directions and deciding budgets.”  

When implementing UX projects, Dimitrios has interacted with three type of boards:  

  • The ones that know what UX design is, and value design.
  • The ones that have heard about UX design. Members have noticed that it’s a trend and, as a consequence, they feel the need to embrace it.
  • The ones that are agnostic: they know what UX design is but, to them, design is only the seasoning you sprinkle on your meal for taste.

Tip 3. You want to understand the board members with whom you will interact beforehand, and have a clear picture of the stakeholders that the UX initiative involves.

Ask colleagues who have implemented any innovation-related project about how the board reacted in the beginning when they pitched it. Mix that information with your own experience and observations about leadership styles, and adapt your speech accordingly. A board that fancies design will be likely more receptive and you may want to go into more details, for example.

On the contrary, a board unfamiliar with UX design wants to know about benefits, not features. Commonly, board members aren’t interested in technical aspects but in how UX design can influence the business positively.

“An action we take that is usually effective is showing the board how company services are perceived. Prior to the meeting, we run a quick mystery shopping action, for example. When pitching I like to focus my pitch on values… cost isn’t appealing as a first point of discussion.”

Beginnings are exciting, but often fuzzy. A potpourri of newness, unclear and diversified expectations and legacy systems converge to make UX design paths stony or, if you get lucky, sandy.  

Making UX Design a company thing can be cloudy

“Usually, when the board wants to embed UX design in the business culture, members don’t have a clear idea of what UX can do,” Dimitrios says.  

How can a company change to one that is UX-centered? How to help an existing or potential client go UX? Either an in-house UX advocate or an UX consultant, you have a comparable challenge: understand the business culture and figure out how UX can find its way among old-fashioned practices, not only to get a specific deliverable done, but ultimately to change those practices too.

UX design’s initial task is to align with whatever approach to management the business prefers – the traditional waterfall model or agile methodology, for instance – to, more subtly than radically, influence innovation, design or transformation initiative afterwards.

What’s key to a UX advocate is to understand in which stages or steps of those initiatives UX can help to achieve better results.

Tip 4. Use mind maps or any other visual technique you fancy, to represent where UX design is a game changer in the current business processes or innovation and creation models. Try to use plain language, no jargon. You can use the map as a strong support when pitching the initiative. It’s also a useful exercise to organise your ideas.

Sit down: UX design is a round table.

“When I think of a business going UX, King Arthur and the knights of the round table always come to mind, Dimitrios told us, smiling. “If you think about it, it is similar.”

Putting UX design to work means inviting every interested stakeholder to the same table. Mapping out needs, expectations, pain points and frustration helps everyone understand the current situation and foresee the steps to come.   

“You know, the round table was a cool democratic exercise but King Arthur was always there,” remarks Dimitrios.  

That’s to say that clear governance is the first unavoidable requirement for any UX-driven initiative to have a chance to succeed. The multidisciplinarity that UX calls for is very valuable, but it needs two actors: a leader or sponsor and a driver.  

Tip 5. Get a sponsor by your side, ideally a board member. Credibility plays a major role when it comes to important decision-making, and a senior UX champion will bring exactly that.

The driver of the UX initiative can be the IT department, the Innovation team or the Communications and Marketing teams for example. The driver will move the initiative forward and you, as an advocate, want to work close to them or, ideally, be part of them.

Tip 6. Make sure there is a clear UX mandate supporting the initiative. The mandate is a clear statement coming from the board and supported by the champion that will open doors and help you to counter some resistance you’ll face.

UX design isn’t a project, it’s a process

The familiarity of a business with UX design influences the actions to put in place. Dimitrios has identify four types of demands.

  • Awareness-related, focusing on skills development and translated into a set of trainings and workshops.  
  • Process-related, this requires reviewing and updating operational processes and improving the employee experience.
  • Product or service related, linked to external clients or users and how experiences across touchpoints can improve. It usually translates into coming up with new products or services. Businesses more familiar with UX design tend to bet on these investments.
  • Strategy-related or using UX methodologies to define a strategy roadmap for the company. It is an ambitious journey where UX is paired up with other approaches to run an entire transformation exercise.

Tip 7. Assess as accurately as possible the resources you need (time, budget, talent, space, etc.) to implement the UX design initiative. UX design demands a range from educational actions to entire transformation programmes. Similarly, get a clear view of the scope of the initiative, or how ambitious it is.

When we asked Dimitrios what the most common UX challenge was, he replied, right away, “Archaic legacy systems that happen to be connected to IT infrastructure or operational processes, but the latter is a little less common or maybe slightly easier to tackle.”

Another aspect to clarify when implementing UX design is the scope of the initiative. “Mobilising resources for a proof of concept is one thing; a broad deployment needs, obviously, other considerations, especially if you are a consultant,”  says Dimitrios.

Wrapping up this UX design story

“Every great design begins with an even better story.” (Lorinda Mamo, designer).

So we reached out to Dimitrios to write this one down!

We trust these tips are useful for you, however, take into account that nothing is set in stone and every story is different. That’s what make life spicy, and a UX designers’ job very exciting.

What we think
Dimitrios Konstantakatos, Former Service Designer at PwC Luxembourg

If you are thinking of change within your company, it is probably because of a flawed experience that ended up costing time, resources and poor business outcomes. Before starting to look for the right thing, think of how to get things right. UX research, Human Centred Design, omni-channel experiences, it all comes down to understanding people and their interaction with systems and processes. The good news is that organisations can leverage tested methodologies to map pain points, co-create to address them and mitigate risks related to user adoption.

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