The Hardest Thing in UX Design

Posted 7 months ago by Alastair Simpson

I spoke this week at a General Assembly Q&A session with 25 freshly minted graduates from their UX course. Many of the questions centred around how to structure portfolios ready for interview, how design at Atlassian works and how to break into the UX and design industry.

1 question really stood out to me.

“As a designer, what’s the hardest problem you have ever had to solve?”

I think my answer was not what the room was expecting to hear.

“The hardest thing any designer will have to do, is to actually convince the rest of the team or their company of the importance of really investing in user experience and design in the first place”

Despite the rising tide of user experience over the years, getting buy in is still the hardest thing to do, and I believe it is a skill many designers lack. It is too often seen as the other persons issue for not being able to see the obvious problem. But I disagree.

Being able to convince a stakeholder why fixing aspects of a user experience is so important is hard. Telling a CEO that the UI is obviously broken won’t really make an impression. Simply telling a product manager who is battling a long list of backlog items, tight deadlines, or the need to roll out to new platforms that he also needs to invest in research to help fix your pet UI issue also won’t cut it.

“As a designer it is part of your role to persuade, to convince, to tell a convincing story that helps the rest of the team understand the pain the customer is feeling with your product and why it is so important to fix.”

If you can’t tell a great story, you may become part of the most worrying trend I have seen. Where teams now hire UX people and just expect them to fix it, without the proper time and investment in an actual design process. Just because you have a UX person on the team doesn’t solve the problems. In my past role as a consultant, many times clients would question the need for research or a design process, because:

“We hired you and you are a UX expert so why do we need more research and your long winded process?”

“Hiring someone with an opinion isn’t the same as having a healthy design process.”

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We often reframe problems and solutions as stories…

The art of story telling…

Understanding how to use data and qualitative feedback to help underline the importance of user experience problems and how to then use this information to tell a great story that convinces stakeholders is an art. And like any art it is hard.

3 years ago there were only 6 designers at Atlassian. Now the team numbers over 60 and is growing fast as we become an experience led company. Design now has a permanent seat at the proverbial table. We design in conjunction with our product managers, developers, support teams and most importantly our customers.

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“As a design team we are starting to tell better stories about our customers and sharing these within the organisation. We redeveloped our personas into a set of cards, specifically so they could be used as part of stories on our design walls.”

However, it has been a hard process to get here in such a short space of time. And we certainly haven’t solved all of the problems yet. We still encounter similar problems other software teams do. How do we prioritise the experience over adding another feature? What will the impact to our customers be? How do we tell a better story so that our PM and engineering teams really understand the customers pain and our proposed solution? But we are on the right path.

So if you are new to design, or are frustrated at not being able to get to a shared understanding with your team about the customers problem, read a few books on persuasion, story telling or even (dare I say it) sales. They might just become the most important thing in your designers toolkit.

This article was originally published on Alastair’s Medium Page.

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Head of Design, Software Teams at Atlassian. An advocate of using design thinking methodologies to solve complex business problems. Follow me on Twitter.

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