How many times have you seen your hard work go down the drain because it is “out of scope” or “not in budget?” How many times have you been shot down, disappointed, or unmotivated because no matter how well designed and researched your solution is, it simply cannot be done? How can we, as UX designers, stop this cycle from happening? And more importantly, how can we bring experience design into the conversation at a higher level so experience-driven strategies and planning aren’t determined solely on project budget, but instead are agreed upon before the budget has even been determined? How? Easy: we need to learn where the money comes from.
Most UX designers—whether in-house, agency, or indie—are unaware of how money and budgeting works for the projects they are on and for the organizations that they work for. Instead of learning about budgeting, we keep our focus on the user experience. We investigate the business need, user mental models, gaps, wants, etc., and create the best user experience possible for everyone. This isn’t necessarily wrong; after all, it’s what we’ve been trained to do, and it is a method that works.
The problem comes in when our solutions are out of scope, over budget, or just do not align with the sponsor’s end goals. In these cases, our design solution, although well researched and informed, is not holistic. We are not fully aware of how the solution will make the sponsor money, and how that money could lead to future innovations to the solution (and thus a better user experience). Business is a cycle of earning money and spending money. Our solutions earn businesses money, shouldn’t we also be aware of how that money is spent?
So how do we close this gap in our understanding so we can ensure we’re designing solutions that are holistic, well researched and designed, and supported by project sponsors? First, we need to be sponges. We need to look at the project around us and be observant to how the money is moving through it. Who in the organization (in house, or client side) is funding this effort? What type of monetary measurements (10% more users, 15% higher conversion rates, etc.) will make this project successful? What other types of success measures are there? How is the project manager estimating spending of the budget (20% design, 40% development, 40% business, etc.)?
By asking these basic questions, we can begin to understand how money is being earned and spent. The next step in developing that understanding is to take these learnings out of the project realm and apply them to the business level. For example, begin finding answers to questions such as: Which group in the organization has the biggest design budget and why? How can the design budgets in other parts of the organization be increased? What are their intentions for innovation and development this year? How does design fit into the overall budget for the organization? How much revenue does any given solution bring into the company? How much revenue and profit will be put towards the design budget? And so on. These types of questions take good relationships and time to answer, but it is possible to get these answers—I’ve been there, trust me.
If we learn about the money, design can become part of the business as opposed to just another resource on a project. As I mentioned previously, design solutions directly affect revenue and profit, and thus also affect budgeting and future enhancements and innovations. By learning about and inserting ourselves into conversations about money we can begin to counter the “that’s not in the budget” comments with conversations like these:
PM: “That’s not in scope”
UXD: “How much of the budget will this solution take up?”
PM: “10% of the budget.”
UXD: “This solution will bring us in 5% more revenue then the original solution. Does that change the budget?”
PM: “Good point, let’s go talk to the sponsor.”
That is a productive conversation. As opposed to just preaching what’s best for the user (which we should always do) and relying on people’s good will and conscientiousness to accept our advice, we can insert ourselves into the business side of things. And the conversation can and should be taken to an even higher level. Sponsors with money to spend on innovation look to and need UXers to spend their money wisely. They want to get the most bang for their buck, and that means getting more revenue, which is achieved with better UX design.
So, learn about the money. I know it’s scary, seems like you’re selling out, and seems like a job for someone else, but in order to advance the UX profession, we as a group need to start integrating experience design into the business side of things. A coach cannot be a head coach for a professional football team if he is only aware of the game logistics. He needs to understand offense, defense, recruiting, player management, funding, spending—all facets of the business and sport. That is how coaches integrate themselves into the football business. We need to learn about the money in order to become the “head coaches” of experience design for the organizations we serve. We need to be holistic and understand the root that all businesses are based off of: the cash.