Championing UX Design / by Gavin Lau

Advocate for change, educate your colleagues, and get buy in for UX Design

This material in this article and in Introducing UX to Your Development Process was a two part talk given at UX Dev Summit 2016. I recommend reading this one first. Because there is so much material in the talk, I wrote these articles for attendees to review and dig in deeper. Even if you weren’t at the talk, I hope you will find it valuable!

Think back to a time when someone told you how to do your job.


I know, right? What a butt.

But as a UX Designer or team entering into a new organization or department, that is exactly what we end up doing. A development team has presumably been there and producing a product for years. Then we show up and try to change everything about how they design and develop their product.

Being on the other side of that feels like someone is stepping in and telling you that you’ve been doing it wrong. Someone is telling you that you did all this hard work wrong for years.

And that‘s not it at all! There are many reasons why teams haven’t had UX Designers or teams working with them. Often small teams feel they can’t afford investing in UX. Large teams have been producing fine results for a long time so why do we need to change?


Being a Champion for UX Means being an Advocate for Change

And change is hard.

But we have an advantage! As user experience designers, part of our job is to design for change. Granted, change in product, but why can’t we apply that to a change in process? Or to a change in organizational culture?

So how do we design for change in a product?


One thing that is crucial when changing a product is managing disruption. If the change you make isn’t obviously better to a user then there isn’t a clear added value to justify the change. That user will likely be resistant to it.

That’s why it’s always worth it to release big changes in small iterations. Give your users some stepping stones to get them partway across the creek before you ask them to take a leap.

Let’s hold onto this mindset while we ponder how to go about organizational change.


Championing step 1

Knowing the Data

Before you argue for the validity of investing in UX, you’ll need to equip yourself with data to support your cause.

1. We are in the Age of the Customer


The progression of “Ages” through the 1900s to now is: Age of Manufacturing, Distribution, Information, and now, Customer.

In each, the organizations that mastered these techniques far outperformed their competition. As each before it, the Information Age has set us up for the Age of the Customer we are now in. If you consider it, brand loyalty is mostly out the window. We have loyalties but they are often fleeting, and it is because of the information we are now equipped with.

When considering which treadmill to buy, the first task is to hop on the internet for information. There’s reviews, price comparisons, product pictures, and competitive products (for half the price). You can even have it delivered to your house.


2. UX can be a Key Product Differentiator


Especially when it comes to technology, its no longer enough to just solve a problem. Calculating complex formula used to be a novel feat, but now anyone can build an app by themselves. It is no longer enough to solve a problem, you have to solve it best. It has to be efficient, maybe even delightful.

If your product isn’t, your customers will hear about a product that is. And unless their is some prohibitive factor, they will ditch your product at a whim.


3. UX has been proven to have a huge ROI

We’ve actually known this for a while. There are many other resources with a more in depth information about this (and infographics), but here are the two things you really need to know:


In 1988, Tom Gilb’s research found that every $1 invested in UX returned $10 — $100. If you weren’t sure, that is huge.


NN/g has also kept a pulse on this number. From an article they published in 2008, they found that investing in UX on average improved KPIs by 83%. This works out to something like spend 10% to gain 83%. Which is also huge.

I recommend digging into these resources later on to learn more.


4. UX reduces both risk and cost of failure

No one is perfect. No matter how smart or clever of a designer you are, users will always surprise you. One of our most important jobs is to discover what we are wrong about as early as possible so that we can start being right.


It’s the idea to fail as fast as possible. Our goal is to discover the issues with a design when its a drawing on paper or an interactive prototype. This way we save huge amounts of money compared to learning about those deficiencies once the feature is out into production.


Championing step 2

Make it Relatable

It is so hard to prove the value of UX before investing in it. In hindsight, you can look at the change in KPIs, the number service desk issues, CSAT and NPS scores, or just listen to your customers reflect about “how much better its gotten.” But before the investment you don’t have any of this.


Even equipped with the data, it will still be a hard sell. It’s easy to be skeptical. Your next step is to make this relatable. Data doesn’t tell a story on its own, but you can.

Think of a time when your team released a feature, maybe even one you worked on, where you later heard about issues your customers had with it. Remind your skeptics about this feature. Is it something they wish they could change? Knowing what they know now, would they have implemented it differently?

Now here’s the real question: If there was a way you could have gotten this knowledge back then, would it have been valuable? Would you have designed it differently? Would it have costed less, or not cost us more now to fix it?

That is where UX can help because UX Research is like a superpower. You can get that sneak peak into the future when your feature is done and your customer is struggling with it. You can use this information to make changes. You can save money and produce a better product and happier customers!

I’d say its worth a try.


Championing step 3



When you first learned about UX Design, there was something that got you hooked. You found a passion, and immersed yourself in every book, article, and meetup you could find. During this process you went on a journey where you learned the value of UX.

Your colleagues have not gone on that journey. It is understandable that they might be resistant to a field they are unfamiliar with.


Help your colleagues to become T-shaped People


T-Shaped people, or as I prefer to call it, your Skill Set Sombrero, represents two things. First, the depth of knowledge in your domain. Second, a shallower breadth of knowledge of the domains of everyone you work with.

As this develops you are able to collaborate, empathize and understand your colleagues better. And remember this goes both ways.


Teach your team UX tools and concepts.


Lunch and learns are a great platform to do this. As all domains teach each other, your team will further develop your Skill Set Sombreros.

There are several great topics you can cover, but here are a few I would recommend:


Wireframing & Prototyping

This is a great one to start with because it can illustrate the value of creating rapid throwaway prototypes to validate assumptions.



Everything you design you are designing for someone. Personas can help both you and your team connect to and empathize with your users. They also inform design decisions by building understanding of what motivates or demotivates users.


Usability Testing

I would say this is hands down the single best tool in the UX Toolbox (though it depends on many others). Usability testing helps us have confidence in design decisions, identify incorrect assumptions, and produce a better product at the end of the day.

Quantitative Research with Analytics

This is a good LnL topic because you will often depend on development to implement analytics.

GA and other tools are only as valuable as you make them. Understanding how to do so, and the value you can get out of pairing your qualitative research with quantitative analytics is really important.


User Flow Diagramming

Does a common task for your users take 12 steps? Often, the complexity of interactions can hide, especially in a single page app.

User flow diagrams help visualize the complexity of a task and understand how you can simplify it. They can also be a great communication tool between UX and the rest of the development team.

Journey Mapping and Blueprinting

While I wouldn’t start here, this topic can introduce your team to the idea of design beyond a product. It is important to understand your customer’s experience and the interactions that happen around it. Without this, you will always be held back in the experience you will be able to deliver to your customers.


Championing step 4


Back in the day, a designer would often take product requirements and dissapear for a month. After journeying to convene with the design gods, they would return with perfect design.

Except it wasn’t perfect.

As UX professionals, this is not the mindset that will help us to quickly find out what we are wrong about. Let’s let go of this vestige of old world design where we segregate ourselves and hide our work until we deem it perfect.

Now I am not saying design up on a stage, I am just saying don’t design behind a curtain. Allow others to see your work, especially in the early days. Try to find common spaces (even hallways) to work in where others will naturally engage with you about the design. Invite them in to the problem. Know, of course, that they probably wont have all the context. They wont understand or appreciate the constraints. That doesn’t mean they wont be able to challenge your ideas or give you a good insight.

Everyone at your organization should be an SME is some aspect of your product, business, or users. You don’t know everything, so take advantage of the knowledge they have!

Another big part of this is inviting your team in to observe research and usability testing. This is especially important for the team members who will be working on what you are designing. Seeing a customer struggle with a current design is the most effective way I have seen to get a developer on board with changing it. This is particularly helpful if you hope to change something already in development. On top of that, their expertise will bring new perspectives to problems that might arise during testing.


Championing step 5

Build a Team of Champions

You can’t change organizational culture on your own.

I don’t care if you are the most clever UX Designer, or even if your the CEO. You can’t change the culture of a group of people by yourself.

And you don’t need to.

As you teach others, invite them in to observe or participate in sessions, or even just talk to them you will find fellow champions. They don’t need to be UX Designers. They might not even be in a design field, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be allies to your cause.


These fellow champions believe in the value UX Design can bring to your product and your business.

Recruit them to be advocates with you. They can teach others in their departments while you spread UX in your own. And any remaining skeptics will now hear about UX from both within and outside of your department.


So is your organization now a UX mecca?

Probably not. Be persistent.


Like most things in life, nothing worth doing is easy. The goal is to apply Human Centered Design to all areas of your organization. Imagine bringing good design not just to the product, but to customer experience, to internal processes, to strategy.

Human Centered Design can serve not just your customers, but you and your colleagues as well. It can improve your organization both inside and out.

Embedding it into your companies culture, though, is quite a feat. Its not something I can boast to have achieved. And weather or not I ever do, I will keep on trying because I do believe it’s worth it.


A final word to the wise:

You won’t get anywhere hating on your product.


Often, products have objectively bad UX. It happens. But going around and exclaiming how bad certain features are is not going to help.

First off, everyone you complain to probably already knows.

Second, it may be something they worked on, or they might understand the circumstances around why.

Either way, even if the person agrees with you, you are effectively putting them up on the ropes. This often eliminates most reactions other than to push back swinging.

Instead, try to focus on the positive future that you can build by applying UX Design. Rather than bash the current product, paint a picture of how great it could be. This way, rather than pushing someone up on the ropes, you are inviting them to run a marathon with you. It may be a lot of work, and the finish line may be far away, but you will be running in the same direction together.