One of the most rewarding aspects of a newsletter is understanding the day-to-day life of your subscribers. People respond to my welcome email and tell me why they signed up and usually mention what they hope to get from the subscription. Sometimes, subscribers will ask questions via email on how to solve a professional problem. I go to places like Hyper Island Digital Media School to discuss user experiences and career choices, but I also enjoy getting questions from subscribers about situations they have encountered in their professional life.
Understanding the daily life of other people shows that, in one way or another, most of us, in fact, face the same problems. Sharing experiences makes problem solving easier. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to be said for the benefits of forums like Twitter, but it’s important to remember that simple conversations are of great value. I consider it a privilege to be able to help someone, and I am extremely grateful to the people who helped me along the way.
A couple of weeks ago, I received a letter from Johan (I publish it with the consent of the author):
Thanks for another letter! I really like your writing style and the topics you are considering.
I would like to know more about the aspect of relationship UX design <> business. Today I faced a certain situation, and it would be nice to know a similar example or get advice from someone like you. Here’s the gist:
I just started (3 weeks) working as a UX designer at a new automotive e-commerce company. Although I was initially focused on visual design, I like UX design more. I am still studying, but I am having difficulties with the business aspect. Today I was asked what I think of the search element on the new landing page. It was incomprehensible, awkward, and designed by someone with zero design skills. Visual designer asked me which option would work better. Firstly, I didn’t work on this project at all, so I asked what the target group is and why the desktop version (full of icons) is different from the mobile one (dropdown menu). And why don’t they choose the simple option (which people who buy / rent cars are used to), but choose something “fancy”. Despite the fact that I had good arguments, they did not listen to me, because the head of the department liked the “bizarre” version more. Sorry AB testing is not my forte, so I cannot say “let’s do a test…” even if I was hired to do this job.
Hope you can help me!
Thanks in advance and keep sending in your emails. Although, I do not always answer them, this does not mean that I do not read them;)
I have already given a short answer to this letter, but I think it is important to discuss this topic at a general level before delving into it.
So, Johan, first about the bad … Unfortunately, we live in a world that values brilliant, bright things more than useful ones. It could even be argued that most designers actively reinforce this mindset. While things aren’t as bad as they used to be, we’re still an industry that’s too focused on how things look rather than how they work – or even, if a they work! If they have to choose between something that looks beautiful and possibly will work, and by the fact that will be work, but devoid of frills, they will choose a less risky option. Who knows, maybe the pretty version works too!
If you are against pretty options, you need to come up with a compelling argument. Lack of context and background information for choosing a design is a battle that a designer in any company should be ready for.
Understanding the stakeholders
Luckily for Johan and all of us, there is hope! You see, the design debate isn’t a battle, it’s a strategy. Instead of fighting Option A for Option B, what if you develop a strategy that outperforms any fancy option?
The key to getting your message across goes beyond understanding your customers and ultimately has to do with a deep understanding of the people who enable you to do the work that really user-oriented. Knowing what drives your manager and stakeholders is vital. Without it, you will be working on things that may never see the light of day. Therefore, if your manager loves financial metrics or any other performance metric, and you master this knowledge, you will have a better understanding of what to look for in order to do your job successfully. What’s the best way to understand managers and communicate your ideas to them? Learn to speak the language of business.
Why designers should speak the language of business
I argued that designers should write, and one of the main reasons why it needs to be done clearly and thoughtfully, you guessed it – managers and stakeholders.
Business and design are separate planets, and that needs to be changed. We have a translation problem.
Design is still a young industry and it is limited to certain areas. While business and finance are literally everywhere. Obviously, if we as designers want change, we need to understand this different type of thinking, and not require them to listen and understand us. We’re going to talk about spaces, stacks, and design systems, but … they don’t care.
The User Experience Design community is a wonderful place full of very smart people, but to be honest, it hasn’t fully matured as a discipline. The fact that we are still actively discussing the description of our specialty is a sign of how much more work remains to be done.
Your designers must learn to speak the language of business
Speaking business 101
Unfortunately, you can’t just grab the superbly designed Duolingo app and take a crash course in business communication, or use Google Translate. While I believe business courses are helpful, you don’t need to go that far. There are some simple things you can do to get started!
Use business terminology literally
Our industry loves to come up with terms. Just try to talk to your parents about design the way you talk to colleagues, chances are they won’t even understand what language you speak. So while it’s obvious to use more general words with people outside of your industry, many designers will use design terminology in meetings to emphasize the fact that they are working with design.
If your organization is focused on generating revenue, try replacing the phrase “inadequacy” with “design debt” to describe the situation. Income-oriented people hate debt.
Or, if your company is passionate about improving efficiency, why not try replacing “junk text” with “content costs.” Efficiency-minded people don’t want to be the ones who drive up spending.
This has been mentioned in recent conversations. Here are a few notes I took to translate UX terms into business terms for added value.
The phrases that work will be different in every organization. I would love to hear your ideas.
– Martyn Reding (@martynreding) March 11, 2019
Understanding their true ultimate goal
The ultimate goal is to sell products, be it cars, SaaS subscriptions, or anything else that your company produces. But sometimes, when combined with sales, stakeholders look to create measurable subsets – consistent revenue generating products, newsletter subscriptions, or brand awareness and appeal. Whatever their purpose, your job as a designer is to fully understand it and adapt your design to it. A design that can only do one thing is not dynamic enough to age gracefully.
Instead of asking what users prefer, such as where the search bar is located, discuss the financial implications of moving it. It requires more knowledge and a deeper understanding of the problem, but it will also help you get their attention. While you and I both know that user preferences and financial implications may not be closely related, it is about designing and discussing it from their perspective.
Being an outsider is great for short bursts of energy, but deeper changes are possible when you have a connection to the heart of your company.
What do you think?
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