How to Sell UX Design — Principles of Persuasion / by Gavin Lau

Nowadays everyone seems to see the importance of UX design and perhaps no one would deny that putting users in the center is the right thing. With such assumptions, UX designers should succeed selling their work, but often the reality is different. Time and money is something that companies count carefully and the truth is that investing in UX needs such resources. This makes selling our work a bit harder, but not impossible. In this article I’ll present some simple rules that may help convince potential clients that user experience is worth investing in.


Clients’ Needs and Misconceptions

No matter if you’re working in an agency, a small studio or as a freelancer — the client is always someone who comes to you hoping you’ll address their need, which is, in most cases, to grow their business. They often already have a strong (mis)conception on what you should do to help them. No matter how hard you try to show your approach, define your services or convince to other solutions, there will always be clients who know better and expect you do what they want. Many times me and my team had to explain clients that from our perspective user research is a necessity or that we’re not web developers, so “no, dear client, we can’t put Google Analytics code to what we deliver”. Although we try to state clearly what our area of expertise is, it still takes us a lot of time to make some clients realize what we can really do for them and why it matters.

Regardless of what your clients are expecting and what their drives are, there are some universal rules that can help you educate and persuade potential customers.


The Concept of Persuasion

When it comes to persuading anybody to anything, psychology helps a lot. There are some factors that are empirically confirmed to have a positive influence on… let’s call it conversion rate. These factors are usually grouped into three categories: connected with the sender (you), receiver (potential customer) and the message itself. As to the sender and the receiver, there are several factors like attractiveness (beautiful people are more persuasive) or similarity (the more the sender is similar to the receiver, the better the effect) that work. Those factors aren’t something you can fully control, though. Fortunately, the message is and that’s what you should take care of if you want to sell your UX work.

The Power of Reason

Of course you’ve got plenty of reasons why your potential customers should turn to you for help. Or at least you should before you try to sell anything. As UXers we believe that our work is a necessary for every product to succeed. That’s true, but it’s also true that, in most cases, potential customers need solid reasons to make an investment. That’s why your argumentation really need to be persuasive.

1. Make it vivid
The more vivid and specific your arguments are, the better. Operating with numbers and possible scenarios at the same time is a good trick. Let’s imagine your potential customer doubts he should spend money on UX research, he simply needs proof. And here’s the proof: not conducting UX research your customer risks losing his audience. If he loses X customers per month that would mean losing Y dollars and during a year losing a Porsche. Numbers and vivid possible consequences persuade best.

2. Don’t over do it
The number of arguments should depend on their strength. It’s much better to present small number of great arguments than flood the receiver with dozens of mediocre ones. In the latter case, he or she may feel overwhelmed and it is possible that they’ll choose a simpler way — no listening to you. It’s like creating an online portfolio: instead of uploading all your work, you always want to choose the best of your projects. Remember: a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

3. Threat (but not too much)
Emotions are powerful influencers, especially those negative. For instance, it’s been proved that advertisements that show negative consequences of not using a given product convert better than those which not use this trick. But you have to be careful with arousing negative emotions. In the case of intense fear, for example, people tend to stop processing information — it’s a simple defense mechanism. What you can do then is to show possible scenarios in which not spending money on UX may paradoxically cost more in the long run.

4. Show different perspective
Saying to our potential customer: “Hey! Maybe you don’t have to invest in UX.” seems like madness at first, but the fact is that two-sided argumentation works better and can boost your credibility. Of course it wouldn’t make sense to inform customers they don’t need you but it’s really good to show them different options: instead of full UX research, offer a short expert review or guerrilla research first. You can later try to expandthose options by saying: Yes, guerrilla research is a very good option too. But in your particular case… and here the context embarks on stage.


Context Is the King

Credible explanation why to invest in UX research is important. There are plenty of situations when lack of such investment ruined someone’s success plan. Such examples should be enough to convince your potential clients. They are not. Why? Because people tend to think that someone else’s failure won’t happen to them. That’s human nature — it’s more convenient to think that everything will go according to plan. That’s why all the arguments should be put into context of a particular product, service or field. Without it, it’s very easy to lose your customer’s interest.

To create context for your arguments it may be useful to complete User Centered Design Canvas. In case you haven’t heard about it: it’s a tool that helps organize information about users and the business. It’s inspired by Business Model Canvas, which all your customers probably know very well. Here you can read more about the Canvas and below you’ll find some tips on how to use it when selling UX.

1. Familiarize your client with his or her users
First step to show the importance of UX design to unaware customer is familiarizing them with their users. One way to do that is to fill in User Centered Design Canvas for their case. That will show the direct link between user needs and business goals.

2. Highlight the shortcomings of your client’s business
Often business owners miss that what they offer should be focused on users and crafted to suit their specific needs. Such awareness can be raised with User Centered Design Canvas, by highlighting those user problems, fears, motives that your client’s product or service doesn’t address.

3. Show your client that different groups of users have different needs
Very often products or services have different target groups with different needs and expectations. In such a case, it’s useful to prepare several canvases to present those groups separately. It may help with deciding which group is more important or which should be taken care of firstly.



Despite the fact that the term UX is quite popular, for many it’s a kind of buzzword. The responsibility for showing the importance of User Experience Design is on UX specialists. It may be challenging to make people realize that focusing on users is the best way (or even the only way) to make business successful, but the result is worth every effort. So try to learn new things from every client — think of what works well, what was the clients’ reaction to specific points and what can be improved. In short, never stop learning: from your succeses, from your failures and from good articles like these two:

10 Ideas to Help You Sell UX Work

How to Make Use of the User Centered Design Canvas

Good luck selling UX!