Making UX Happen

Last Thursday UXPA UK held a workshop – Making UX Happen – it provided an opportunity to discuss the barriers that often inhibit, or even prevent, engagement with user experience on a project.

Robert Fabricant outlines what user experience means to business today in the Harvard Business Review:

In business today, “user experience” (or UX) has come to represent all of the qualities of a product or service that make it relevant or meaningful to an end-user — everything from its look and feel to how it responds when users interact with it, to the way it fits into people’s daily lives. You even hear people talking about UX as the way in which a consumer connects to a business — all the touch-points from marketing to product development to distribution channels.

As he goes on to say: the recognition of UX’s importance seems to be slowly sinking into corporate culture. Slowly. While a UX article in a prominent business publication suggests that we’re heading in the right direction, in practice user experience concerns frequently get side-lined. When this happens it is easy to blame the client or organisation. Blame doesn’t offer a solution though. More often it results in a stagnating sense of deja-vu, with the same issues crop up time and again.

As a starting point for the workshop several themes were identified, based on pre-event input from attendees about problems encountered. These include: politics and issues around ownership (of products and policies) generated by organisational silos; having a client that doesn’t measure or understand the value of UX; low stakeholder engagement; ineffective communication and persuasion by practitioners. Together these suggest a disconnect between how the business views UX, and how UX professionals view UX…

Divided into groups, the challenge was to take one of these themes and identify its causes and ways to mitigate the issue. These ideas were fed back to a wider group, and there was plenty of overlap in our collective thinking. Here are a few that caught my attention:

Understand the business

Know what the business’ high-level objectives, organisational beliefs and values, and any long-term goals are. Use these to inform your work, and explicitly relate to them in proposals, reports etc.

Communication with the client

Talk more (and email less). Be approachable. Listen to the problems encountered by people within the business and solve these. These can be the right problems right now, and get colleagues/clients engaged enough to solve the right problems for the long term.

Collaboration

Engage stakeholders through participation (workshops, wireframing sessions, observing user testing), and let them see the fruits of their labour unfold — they’ll be more invested in the outcome.

Be adaptable to the way the client works

Allow for flexibility in your process and avoid dogmatism — alienating the client won’t improve their attitude towards UX.

A pinch of common sense

If this all seems a bit obvious, it is. And there is a broader application for these ideas that extends beyond the scope of UX. Whatever your discipline, it’s easy to become entrenched in the detail — more so when having to defend your interests. There is real value to be gained from pausing from time-to-time, taking a step back and being reminded of the bigger picture you work within. Ultimately this helps in defending (initially) and gaining acceptance (longer-term) for the work you do.

As a designer who ‘does a bit of UX’, it was enlightening to attend the workshop and hear the views and struggles of the people doing UX full time and pushing the field forward.