To Show the Value of UX, We Must Show the Work of UX
October 24, 2019
by: Jared M. Spool
I was once again in a design presentation meeting. The team, which had worked hard for weeks on their new user experience design, was introducing the new look and feel to their peers and stakeholders. It was good, solid work.
Their peers and stakeholders were not impressed. They weren’t disappointed either, just not wowed. There was an atmosphere in the room, almost saying, “You worked on this for months and this is all you have to show us?”
As the presentation fell flat, I couldn’t help but think about the final scene in the first Star Wars movie (A New Hope, Episode IV). You’ve probably seen this scene. It’s where the movie’s heroes, Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie, along with droids C3PO and R2D2, are all standing on a big stage receiving medals and awards for saving the rebellion and destroying the Empire’s Death Star.
I’m pretty sure George Lucas, the movie’s director, never tried to explain the story of Star Wars by just showing that scene. Sure, that moment is where the characters’ efforts lead to. But, it’s not a good way to understand the importance of the work they put in to get there.
The ‘big reveal’ rarely works.
There’s a romantic idea that we can make a show of our finished work. We gather the team in the room, build up the suspense, and violà! The crowd will gasp as we show the amazing work we’ve done.
Of course, that’s not how it ever turns out. If we’ve done a great job at our designs, they won't look special. They’ll look clean and simple, as if they’d been there all along.
A great design won’t look like it took a lot of work. That’s not helpful if we want our peers and stakeholders to value UX design. It’s hard to value something that you don’t appreciate.
Show, don’t tell.
George Lucas got us excited about the story behind Star Wars by telling the entire adventure. That can work for an action movie.
That first Star Wars flick had a running time of 2 hours 5 minutes. It’s unlikely that our peers and stakeholders will patiently sit through a recreation of our design journey, even if we kept the run time at half of that.
The most successful UX design leaders have a different approach to win over the appreciation of their colleagues. They don’t wait until the end of the project to share the UX design. Instead, they show their work all the way through the design process.
Involving the entire team in the design process.
To show their team’s work, the UX design leaders include their peers and stakeholders in the design process. They don’t just wait until the end of their design process to show them their final work product. They use a variety of techniques to open up their process to others on the teams.
For example, design critiques are made more effective when individuals outside the design team participate. The discussion during the critique session, when done well, reveals the effort that went into the design itself. Frequent design critique sessions provide the extra benefit of showing the progress of the project.
Posting ongoing work on the walls keeps the process visible to everyone who passes by. They may not stop to read through each change, but they can see that changes happen frequently.
Taking advantage of our desire to solve problems.
People love a good puzzle to solve. We can take advantage of that, when we present design challenges as problems that need solving.
For example, design studio workshops open up the design process to non-designers. They get the opportunity to work through design challenges alongside the design team. They can see how many different approaches there are to solving a difficult problem and learn a few design techniques in the process.
Also, bringing non-designers along to user research sessions helps show how a single design solution may not be effective for all users. Seeing the variety of users the team needs to design for is often an eye-opener for those who never thought about it before.
Successful design leaders enhance their research by asking their peers to predict what users will do ahead of the research session. This has the benefit of reinforcing the difficulty of producing optimal design solutions for a wide audience.
We must show our work to be appreciated.
It’s not helpful when UX designers try to work in isolation, away from the rest of the team. They need to be out in the open with their process, showing the work as they go along.
There are UX designers who are resistant to this idea. They don’t want to invite the inevitable criticism of “unfinished” work.
But that just reinforces the mysticism of a closed-off design process. It doesn’t lend itself to showing the true value of our work.
If our goal is to drive our organizations to deliver better-designed products and services, we’ll need everyone we work with to appreciate the hard work that goes into a good design. And the only way we’ll get that appreciation is to show the work of UX.
A great way to get your entire team involved with your design process.
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