UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 675 May 19, 2011

What Do You Have to Do to Get Your Way?

UX Magazine attended the 2011 IA Summit in Denver this year to interview conference speakers and attendees. In this video, interviewees respond to the question:

When you're working on a project, what do you have to do to get your way?

 

The interviewees, in order of appearance, are:
  1. Stephen P. Anderson, Independent Consultant & Creator of Mental Notes
  2. Kim Bieler, Apt Media
  3. Jeff Gothelf, Director of UX, TheLadders.com
  4. Samantha Starmer, Experience Manager
  5. Carl Collins, R/GA
  6. David Gillis, Teehan+Lax
  7. Jess McMullin, President, Centre for Citizen Experience
  8. JoAnna Hunt, Blackboard Inc.
  9. Eric Reiss, CEO, The FatDUX Group
  10. Dana Chisnell, Usability Works
  11. Richard Dalton, Manager of IA, Vanguard
  12. Kyle Soucy, Founding Principal, Usable Interface
  13. Rob Fay, UX Architect, Blackboard, Inc.
  14. Kevin Hoffman, Experience Director, Happy Cog
  15. Justin Davis, Founder, Madera Labs
  16. Beth Koloski, Lead Experience Architect, EffectiveUI
Stephen P. Anderson, Independent Consultant & Creator of Mental Notes
More and more, I'm questioning the value of getting my way. A lot of times I do, but I'm learning more and more, particularly with startups where you roll stuff out and test it—I'll just say I'm being humbled by a lot of things. I'm learning how much I don't know. I'm a big fan of quick, rapid, iterative testing and prototyping with real customers for this very reason, because there's so much that we think we know, but until people actually use it and we can see that and monitor the results, we don't really know if we're right or if we're wrong. Fundamentally, design is learning and trying things out, and failing a lot of times so we can learn and get the experience to do better next time. Now that said, when I want to get my way, stories are powerful. Stories backed up with facts and things, but carving a good story that people can relate to and they can see themselves, or see their customers, or see people in and identify with, that's the most powerful way to get people on board with whatever you're pitching.
Kim Bieler, Apt Media
It's a funny question because it makes it sound like my way is important. I think that what is important is what is good for the project or what we're working on. So I think the most persuasive arguments are teh onese that focus on, what are we trying to achieve here together? What's right for this project. And usually when I can couch arguments in a way that are not about me or about what I want but are about what's good for the project, what's good for our end result, I think I get a better result. As long as I'm explaining myself well.
Jeff Gothelf, Director of UX, TheLadders.com
The most effective thing that I've fount to "get my way" on a project is to provide quantitative proof, and qualitative proof, that the design suggestions that I'm making are indeed solving the problem we set out to solve. So measuring the design through testing—both usability testing as well as quantitative testing and coming in with analytics—is the most powerful way to prove that the work that you're doing is solving the problems.
Samantha Starmer, Experience Manager
Well, first I have to recognize sometimes when my way is not the right way, because sometimes I can get kind of glommed onto my idea and need to listen to everybody else. But I would say two things that I have found to work really really well if I really am trying to move something forward and they're almost the blending of two opposites. And one is, what's that blue sky story? Personalizing it, why should we be doing something? Whether it's telling the story about how it'll benefit the customer, or even telling the story about how it benefits the business—but really in a story way. And then marrying that with data and metrics as much as possible. And I've found that when you combine those two things, it's really powerful.
Carl Collins, R/GA
Be confident when I'm right, and cute when I'm dumb.
David Gillis, Teehan+Lax
There are ways that you can be persuasive and you can build a case, and you can communicate the thinking behind the design decisions that you're making effectively, and you can work collaboratively. But I think that last point of collaboration is the biggest thing to pay attention to. And I think that at the end of the project it's a good thing if it's a little bit messy to figure out who owns which decisions. If they've been truly collaborative, then those lines won't be really clear and it won't be so clear who got their way in the end, but that's probably not the worst thing.
Jess McMullin, President, Centre for Citizen Experience
Well the biggest thing is understanding the difference between your way and the right way, and sometimes those aren't always the same thing. And the very biggest thing to do is to listen, to be able to understand what do other people care about in a project—what's going to be successful for them? How do you know that what you're doing is going to support them in that success, whether it's in the organization or external stakeholders? You have to be able to understand what those people are trying to get out of the project and line up what you're doing so that you can create value for both of you—get your way, but also show that your way is going to benefit them.
JoAnna Hunt, Blackboard Inc.
You really have to listen to what other people are telling you and take that and apply it to the things that you already know, and how you can make them understand why what they're saying is in partnership with what you're trying to accomplish.
Eric Reiss, CEO, The FatDUX Group
There are various things you can do to get your way. You can always hit people over the head with statistics. And you can also make up the statistics because people really don't follow up on this, anyway. So you can certainly lie. If somebody else is hitting you over the head with statistics, then you say to them: "Well, where did you get your facts?" And that always puts them on the defensive. But the truth is you don't always want to be right because this is not a black-and-white industry. There are so many shades of gray. And the people who go in and pound on the table and say, "It's my way or the highway," are invariably the ones who don't really do very good design.
Dana Chisnell, Usability Works
How do I get my way? I like to just demonstrate. Often I will put my rival in the place of the participant. So, for example, I was working on a usability study in a big server-making company several years ago. And it was an internal application, and this particular product manager who was an engineer through and through was resisting the whole idea of usability testing. But he was told that he had to do it. So I said, "Okay, you get to be the first participant. We'll call it a dry run and we'll just rehearse the script. But you get to play the part of the participant." And he said, "Okay, this should be really easy, we'll be done with this in a few minutes." And he found the things he wanted people to do were really, really hard. In fact, they were so hard for him that he put off the test for another day so he could fix some things up before we went. So putting the person in charge in the position of their customer, their user, and going through role play often really works really well. It's hard for people to get the users in their heads, and my practice is all about making that happen.
Richard Dalton, Manager of IA, Vanguard
See things from other people's perspectives. You have to listen to them. But it's important not to always get your own way because you're perceived to be someone who always gets their way and nobody wants to work with you because you can't compromise.
Kyle Soucy, Founding Principal, Usable Interface
I don't think that I will ever always get my way. I don't go into something thinking that I will. What you have to do and what I think is important—at least for me, I'm an external consultant—I have to be accomodating to my client's needs, to their team's needs. I think "accommodating" is just a big, bold world that fits me well. I try to do my best to be flexible and in return I think that they're acoomodating to me as well, and they're more open to not being really rigid when it comes to certain requests that I might have, and not being stubborn and saying, "Oh no, we have to follow this." If I'm open to their ways of doing things, then they're more open to my suggestions, as well.
Rob Fay, UX Architect, Blackboard, Inc.
I think that we need to change the conversation. Rather than pitting myself against someone else and talking about what's best from my perspective, it's really putting the user in the center of the discussion. So instead of being combatants in the discussion, it's really trying to say, how can we both successfully work together to meet the needs and goals of that individual or that customer base.
Kevin Hoffman, Experience Director, Happy Cog
I need to really put aside a lot of my assumptions early in the process and listen as much as I can, and listen for the things that people aren't saying so I know when to ask more questions.
Justin Davis, Founder, Madera Labs
I think to get my way, there's probably two parts. One is choosing the clients that understand the process and that do respect my position as the designer and say, "Hey, we're going to get out of your way and let you be the expert here." But there are instances where you do have to prove your worth, and that comes down to research—citing research, finding other things in the UX canon and bringing that in and saying, "Look, here other people who have faced a similar problem. Here's what they did." Also data. Just proving that what you're saying is right. Now that doesn't always work, but it's certainly more helpful than not.
Beth Koloski, Lead Experience Architect, EffectiveUI
What I usually do to get my way is a simple one—or what I try to do is just put stuff on paper. What I find is that, at least on the projects I tend to work on, documentation usually wins. So if you have what you want on paper, you can often, over time, win by simply just keeping what you want on paper and not changing it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

Jonathan (@first_day) is a tech-focused jack of all trades and the editor-in-chief of UX Magazine. He is also the author of Effective UI: The Art of Building Great User Experience in Software, published by O'Reilly Media. Through its partnership with UX Magazine, Jonathan is also a senior advisor to Didus, a recruiting and career development company focused on user-centered professionals. As well, Jonathan is Managing Director, Product Strategy & Design for Dapperly, a fashion-oriented software product startup, and he is the Principal of First Day, a small private equity and consulting company. From 2005 to 2009, Jonathan helped found EffectiveUI, a leading UX strategy, design, and development agency focused on web, desktop, and mobile systems.

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Comments

17
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I feel sorry for my colleagues that work in Blackboard. Having studied via that wonder of Victorian education, I can tell that you are better off somewhere else:

http://blogs.forbes.com/petercohan/2011/05/23/wharton-start-up-coursekit-wants-to-replace-blackboard/

15
20

From my own experience, I find that there's little value in 'I'm right, you're wrong' arguments. There is a valid truth in everyone's position.

It's also useful to understand that good design doesn't happen in a vacuum. Yes we're designers, we adhere and strive to exceed peer standards, but if we're good, then it's no longer just about us. If we're good, then we're also ethnographers of sorts, we're seekers of truth and deeper understanding of context, because that's what it takes to be effective.

I find that when clients push back, we always learn more about context, and ultimately better solutions develop.