How UX can get anything they want

I’m a fan of the unconventional view that most people, most of the time, worry about the wrong things.

When it comes to the world of UX, designers, usability engineers, and the rest, they tend to complain about how little power they have, but spend little time doing skill development in how to gain influence and power.  The average designer or IA would be better served by going to a sales conference and learning sales and pitching skills, than going to yet another design event. They’re already good at design, but they’re probably not very good at pitching design ideas to non-designers.

One fallacy in how designers and HCI experts are trained is the lack of recognition that most of their careers will be spent working with people who know almost nothing about design or HCI. They are set up to be marginalized and kept in the corner of organizations, since they’re never shown that their success hinges not just on expertise, but the ability to translate that expertise into terms the people who they work with, and for, can understand. The biggest skill gap the UX world has are advocates, translators, and persuaders, people who are not afraid to sell and convince others on the value of their work.

Last year at UI14 I met Alastair Simpson, a UX manager who, in a former life, worked in sales.  I asked him to blog about how to apply his sales background to the challenges of working in UX, and finally he did.

Here’s an excerpt:

Each time I visit a conference I hear the same problems faced by UX professionals.  Not the never ending search for a perfect interface, the perfect user flow, or a usability test that passes without incident.  Most commonly it is “If I could only get the budget, my CEO just doesn’t listen to me in meetings, they seem to switch off and just don’t understand my point of view”.  In the majority of cases this is probably your problem, not theirs.  Successfully pitching your ideas and making your managers, and their managers buy into the UX problems on your site is essential in getting sign off for your projects.

Read the full post here.

I don’t think UX, or anyone, ever gets everything they want. But if you know how to sell, build trust, and choose wisely, you can often get any one thing that you want. And having the courage to do this is how respect, power and influence are earned.

Also see:

23 Responses to “How UX can get anything they want”

  1. Livia Labate

    Any success I have had in my career I attribute 50% to my abilities as a UX designer, 50% to my ability to translate to the language I need to be understood in.

  2. Kaleem

    Scott, thanks for pointing out this often unspoken truth.

    Like everyone else, user experience practitioners are hired based on their expertise and experience i.e. their potential to do a job well. But their success in a business depends on the ability to complete tasks that contribute to the bottom line.

    In an environment where resources (time, money, etc.) are limited or scarce, managers and executives who control budgets place priorities on those projects that they see as a good investment. It’s up to us to show them why UX is worth that investment.

    I had a similar conversation with a colleague last week. The glaring lack of awareness or education that I see among my peers outside of UX and design is surprising. Navigating the politics of corporate structures and learning how to communicate across disciplines are at least as important as skill in our chosen field.

    Thanks for the perspective and the pointer to Alastair Simpson.

  3. Dorian Taylor

    Hear hear, Scott.

    Moreover, why not turn the tools onto the task? Design objective: buy-in. Personas: bosses, clients, whatever. Scenario: get them to sign on the line which is dotted.

  4. Paul Sherman

    Scott, thanks for the props in the “Also see” section. Dan Szuc and I have been working this problem for a few years now, and we too hear the same “if only I could get x” refrain.

    I’ve been both a UX innie and an outtie (sp?), and I have to say that insider UX’ers often put themselves into the “learned helplessness” state almost reflexively. UX’ers can be their own worst enemies when it comes to getting resources to do the job right. And I speak from experience: I’ve been there, done that. Maybe that’s why Dano and I beat this drum so loud; i.e., “Learn from our mistakes! Here’s how!” -Paul

  5. Smaranda

    An excellent point that I have often thought about. There are two other things that I have often seen designers do and that go hand in hand with their lack of influence.
    1. staying in their own little designers corner and not mingling with the rest of the team(s).
    2. trying their best to understand the user, but not putting any effort in understanding the organization they work in (or for, if it’s a design consultancy)

    One of the core principles of user centered design is to put yourself in the shoes of the user and adapt your product accordingly. I find it ironic how designers often ignore this very principle when crafting their discourse and arguing their case in front of non-designers.

  6. Alastair Simpson

    Scott, many thanks for the write up. Coming into the UX world as an outsider, it surprised me that so many UX practitioners can visualize an interface from a users perspective so well, but cannot easily see the world through the eyes of senior management who most of the time are focused on the bottom line. I am not sure why this phenomenon exists, but hopefully we can change this as I see real value in UCD and want more companies and senior management to truly understand that value as well.

    @Dan & Paul nice articles, some very good advice in them and good to see some others out there talking about this.

  7. Richard Marr

    It’s probably not a coincidence that the UX people I know who are most skilled in selling their specialism work in agencies.

  8. Marcela Machuca

    Hi Scott,

    Your post strongly reminds me to the Design Critique 58 from last year where Jim Jacoby exposes the importance for Designers to speak up and switch the boat direction, as you mention maybe we need to focus our skill set in to what our ideas need to be heard.

    I am starting by trying to exercise my argumentative skills

  9. Paul Sherman

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting at http://www.UsabilityBlog/ Scott.

    If I had to venture a guess, I think the reluctance among UX’ers to persuade stems from my contention that most of us are utterly convinced of the rightness of our ways. After all – and this is a mostly a good thing – most of us stumbled onto this field and found it a fantastic lens through which to project our ethical expression onto the world. UX is a place to be a force for good. How awesome is that? Answer: quite awesome indeed. So why *wouldn’t* everyone see our opinions as correct?

    But there’s the rub. Our moral certitude gets in our way. In other words: UX’ers belief in our own rightness is quasi-religious. Hey, then there’s no need to persuade others of our rightness; we *know* we’re right. And if they don’t believe us, frak ’em.

    Only there’s that pesky little issue of who’s cutting the checks….hmmm, I better tow the line and *try* to light the way for the blind, convince those who labor in the darkness of not knowing UX, even though they’re little more than inmates running the dark asylum…I think you can see where I’m going with this.

    My bottom line advice to our field would be very similar to what my Jewish mother from Queens often says: hey UX’ers, get over yourselves. We don’t poop roses. Not everything we do is an expression of our moral superiority.

    Most times, we don’t -and aren’t even in a position to – see the big picture. And we don’t know what it’s like to be on the hook for the revenue of a product. In other words, we should have a little more empathy and broaden our horizons a bit.

    I’ve made these points before; check this article out for a slightly more poiished version of this argument:

    Thanks again, Scott. Good discussion you’ve triggered here.

  10. Jason

    great article. I find diplomacy and relationship building is at least as important as expertise in the UX field :)

  11. Rolf Skyberg

    Inability to get your ideas accepted doesn’t only affect UX designers, it frequently plagues inexperienced staff in all roles.

    Early in my career at eBay, I did a solo deep dive on some product strategy; spent 12 weeks doing market research, analysis, UX design and etc, creating what I knew was the perfect entry into a new market.

    I could only watch in horror in the kickoff meeting for the “official” project as all my mockups, research, and projections were blithely ignored and they started from ground zero.

    Upon my whining about it, my mentor gave me what at the time what felt like a slap-in-the-face consolation. Quite simply, he said, “That’s your problem”.

    His statement took a while to sink in, but it was only then that I realized that nobody is obligated to pay attention to you. Communicating your ideas effectively is both a skill, and at times a privilege.

  12. Erica

    Great article – I’d love to take some of the medicine you are suggesting. Can anyone recommend a good such conference to attend? (sales and persuasion)




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