How to win at UX

Time to read: 5 minutes

UX is trendy, and we should all rejoice…

Except UXers often work to unrealistic expectations, (“make this product user-friendly in 8 weeks”) try to solve non-existent problems (“build that team a dashboard with metrics XYZ”), and are seldom allowed time to do real research or work as a team (“we don’t have time for that, just design something”).

Sound familiar?

The first and biggest problem is that UX is trendy. This would be good, if everyone knew what UX is and when a UX Architect should get involved in a project.

How bad UX happens

Someone has an idea, and gets some people to put together “requirements” which are passed on to an IT team.

Three months later, a product exists but it’s… not quite right.

So they call in a UX Architect to make it “user friendly”…


UX isn’t sprinkles on a sundae or rolling a turd in glitter. If what you’ve built is a pile of shit, then it’s too late for a UXer to fix it, because in 100% of cases I have encountered, how it was BUILT now constrains how it can WORK.

Which means that I can’t fix it, because UX is about HOW something WORKS.

To win at UX, let us in early

The right time to call in a UXer is when you think you might have a problem or a product idea.

Let us in early, because we help find and define the problem to begin with…

Let us in early, because we might discover that what your customers actually need is something entirely different from what you thought…

Let us in early, because we can devise ways to prove whether an idea has value.

Don’t listen to a consultancy who pitches you a solution to your self-diagnosed problem, delivered in 8 weeks.

Self-diagnosing product, process and service problems is about as intelligent as self-diagnosing a bellyache with WebMD.

You’ll end up healthier if you let a professional have a look.

To win at UX, build an internal team

What every business needs is an internal team who will spend the time getting to really know the people, practices and systems involved in running the business.

This team of smart, resourceful, multi-skilled, user-centric people, will work in one place together, for a long enough time, and will start at the root: researching and understanding the needs and motivations of clients and employees.

Our superpower is that we know how to get your customers to tell us what works and what doesn’t… rather than creating what’s in your imagination, we find ways to iterate to something that wasn’t even in theirs, until we listened to their problems, and showed them a new solution!!

And that’s how you get richer, and give us bonuses as a thank you.

To win at UX, make us lead

I am advocating that a UCD (User Centred Design) team should LEAD the evolution of processes, technology and the customer experience.

The team would work in tandem with the C-suite and Product leads, because we would be contributing to the growth and success of the business.

That’s how you run a true user-centred business; starting – and ending – with listening to the users.

To win at UX, hire multi-skilled UXers

It’s not possible to do good work in any of the UX disciplines without all individuals at least understanding all facets of the problem being solved.

Designers or BAs or “prototypers” (why is this even a thing?) who choose to work to a blinkered brief are a curse to our industry, because the challenges lie in the complexities linking up the various departments and disciplines. Nothing exists in a silo. Everything is linked to something else.

And I know from experience (and the five whys method developed at Toyota) that I can only do good design if I fully understand all aspects and constraints of a problem, because that’s when I know that I am working on the REAL problem.

This means I need to know how to conduct user research, and analyse the results.
Understand and document processes.
Ideate multiple solutions and draw wireframes illustrating them.
Turn wireframes and flows into prototypes and test content and interactions.
Write features and epics and prioritise a roadmap.
Not forgetting of course doing demos, composing and delivering presentations, writing the copy for the interface (probably THE most overlooked and critical component of every product) as well as getting stakeholder buy-in and motivating my team to build the best thing possible.

Research, Analysis, Ideation, Agile skills, Writing, Presenting, People skills and leadership. While understanding human cognition and current technological capabilities, and solving problems using design methods.

Are you tired? I’m tired…

Today, being a T-shape is not enough. You need to be more of an F or an E, and be able to progress a problem through more than one phase, because the tiny things you learn first hand are usually the key to insight and innovation.

And ALL of these UXers need to understand technology. Because I’d need them all to work with the developers in the team, and have everyone’s lives be easier through this collaboration.

It’s possible

It really is possible, because in smaller companies and startups (a recent *cough* GIRLBOSS *cough* netflix series comes to mind), listening to your customers is how you know what to do next.

The older industries and companies will take longer to adapt to this idea and embrace a discipline they still consider “new”, but they all will inevitably morph into smarter entities, listening better to their customers.

Because that is the natural selection of the business world of the future.

I’ve bet my career on that.

To win at UX, in summary:

To really solve a problem, we need:

  1. to start thinking of UX as a problem-solving discipline (which it is), and getting UXers involved when you say “I think we have a problem here”… because we’re good at finding what the real problem is!
  2. an embedded team of UX Architects doing research and learning the tasks, processes, tools, goals and motivations internal staff, and of the needs, motivations and reported pain points of customers.
  3. to let customer insight drive decisions… and this means having the UX team lead the way. Let the professionals have a look. You’d be surprised with what we’ve found!
  4. a multi-skilled team that will stay put, learn to work together well, and will be able to solve a problem from beginning to end, collaboratively; and it will include developers.

What are YOU doing to win at UX?

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