If you create digital products, you know this: Getting your organization to put the focus on users is hard work. It often requires a complete attitude shift toward how websites, applications, and software get made. Lucky for us, three regional UX leaders agreed to come to our quarterly UX meetup and tell us how they met the challenge and then some.

Our Panel of UX Leaders

Chris How, AVP of Design & Experience for Unum
Jamie Thomas, Co-Founder of Cognito Forms
Troy Stockman, Manager of Customer Insights & User Experience at SCANA

What We Learned (in a nutshell)

  1. You must present tangible proof that UX works.
  2. When convincing people is tough, create a better interface on your own time and show it to the people who need to see it.
  3. Listen to pushback, but don’t be afraid to push back yourself.
  4. Hire a team that’s diverse in background, skills, perspective, and personality.

What Is Good User Experience, Anyway?

Our responsibility is just to make software that doesn’t suck.
-Jamie Thomas

Good UX focuses on the user.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s something organizations fail to act on all the time. Users’ tasks, needs, pain points, and goals are at the center of good UX.

Think about the experience of the user. It’s not necessarily ‘does it work,’ it’s ‘does the user feel good about the process of using it?’
-Jamie Thomas

Make it surprisingly easy.

Good UX is the feeling your users get when that horrible payment portal they thought they were going to have to deal with turns out to be not so horrible at all. It’s what happens when they complete their online tasks so efficiently they don’t even realize it was easy. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Sometimes a courteous, simple approach works wonders.

Is it simple, is it modern, and is it personal? If you get all of those right, you have a good user experience 99% of the time.
-Chris How

Convincing Higher-Ups

UX won’t matter to people until you show them what it can do.
-Chris How

Proof that UX works will help your company accept it.

It’s hard to argue with good numbers. We know that good UX is also good business, so show evidence of that to the people you’re trying to convince. They need to know that investing in user experience will help them meet their business goals.

Having the people who make the decisions sit down and go through our app, they were like, ‘Wow this looks nice. AND I know how to use it.’ The proof was in the pudding. There’s nothing more convincing than showing the value of it after all the investment.
-Chris How

Do the UX work on your own time and show them something better.

Work on alternative options in your free time. Show your client or boss what they asked for, but also show them how it can be better through UX. Whenever possible, test your work so you can present metrics that show your way is the way to go.

Even if you have a down moment and there’s something that’s been bugging you, tackle it and then show it to ask many people as you can.
-Troy Stockman

Dealing With Pushback

That same empathy we would use if we were watching a user in a usability test we can apply to talking with clients.
-Troy Stockman

Listen to the pushback. But don’t be afraid to push back yourself.

Take the empathy you have for users to your meetings with stakeholders and project owners. Talk to them, bring them in early, and try to understand where they’re coming from. But also keep in mind that when it’s time to say no, it’s time to say no.

We had to put our foot down and say, ‘We own this, thank you for your opinion, I don’t really care about your opinion.’ And that was tough.
-Chris How

Bring the skeptical parties into the UX process.

There’s nothing better for a user experience disbeliever than participating in the process. They’ll be right alongside you seeing the users’ frustrations, the business task fails, the fixes made. And ultimately they’ll feel like part of the product’s success.

Bringing people into the process is the most powerful thing. And they love being a part of it. The earlier you can bring them in, the better. You get a better product.
-Troy Stockman

Building a Team

It is important to have a group that’s diverse in thought and personality.
-Troy Stockman

Hire diverse teams to create better products.

When you do get the go-ahead, how do you recruit the help you need? Teams with members who have different points of view, skill sets, backgrounds can create better user-centered products. The varying input and ways of approaching problems will help create a more intuitive, easy-to-use website, application, or software suite.

Teams who are more diverse and have different perspectives tend to have more turmoil but end up with a better product. I welcome different skill sets.
-Chris How

Build talent from within.

You can teach your current team to be user experience practitioners by mentoring them and giving them the education tools they need.

We found that if we focus on mentoring and hiring people with great aptitude, desire, and drive, that’s how we can build up a great team.
-Jamie Thomas

Making It Happen

If this sounds like a lot, we won’t sugarcoat it: it is. But building a UX culture in your organization is worth it. The UX leaders we spoke to told us they made mistakes, had hard conversations, and dealt with enormous pushback. But they all succeeded in building UX teams and have gotten their organizations to focus much more on user experience. When they made this happen, it led to success both for users and for their organizations’ business needs. We call that a win-win-win.

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About truematter

Our team has been doing the real work of user experience since the earliest days of the commercial web. We’re out to make your digital products a whole lot better.

We regularly help internal teams do the hard work of proving to their higher-ups that investing in user experience is well, well worth it.

Authors: Bailey Lewis and Isabelle Carroll
Photography: Bekah Rice
Editor: @ExperienceDean