As user experience professionals we want the companies for whom we work to be more user centric. But building a user-centric culture is hard. This guide will get you started.
In this guide, I seek to give you all the tools you need to start building a user-centric culture in your company. To help you encourage colleagues and management to value the user experience.
In this guide to building a user-centric culture we will cover:
- Your vital role in building a user-centric company.
- How to start building a user-centric culture.
- Convincing others to care about the user experience.
- Helping others picture a better user experience.
- Where to get help creating a user-centric culture.
Your vital role in building a user-centric company
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Your management team is not going to suddenly turn around and commit 100% to making the company more user-centric. Sure, they might say they care about the user experience, but that is as long as it doesn’t get in the way of their other goals.
So, if you want to work in a user-centric company you have two choices. You can quit and go somewhere that does care about the user experience, or you can make change happen. This guide presumes you are choosing to fight to improve the user experience in your place of work.
Because here is the truth, the future of UX at your company lies in your hands. Nobody else is going to make it happen. It falls to you.
Now you might think that is an impossible challenge. You might be just a designer with no power and no authority. But you don’t need those things to bring about change. You just need determination, perseverance and the willingness to step out of your comfort zone.
But I would go further. If you call yourself a user experience designer, I would argue that it is your job to bring about change. Because the role of a UX designer is not what you think. It is not interchangeable with the role of a UI designer. It is a user experience designers job to improve the user experience wherever that happens, even if it goes beyond the edge of the screen.
Do not underestimate your role in bringing about change in your organisation. Your company doesn’t just need another designer, coder or marketer. It needs advocates for the user. It needs mavericks willing to do whatever it takes to make the company more user-centric
So where should you begin?
How to start building a user-centric culture
I want to be honest with you. There is no magic bullet to making a company more user-centric. It is a marathon, not a sprint. In fact, it will probably take years and it is not something that you will ever achieve alone. But you can begin the process and in doing so advance your own career and reputation. There is no need to be stuck in a dead-end digital team. There are things you can do.
Beginning is easy enough. You need to seek out like-minded people. You see sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. We sit around moaning that nobody cares about the user experience like we do. In truth, many people care, even if they don’t know the term user experience or understand what it means to be user centric.
Marketers care, sales people care, customer support staff care. All of these people are profoundly impacted if users have a poor experience.
Find like-minded people
If we want to bring about change in our organisation, we cannot continue to be the lone wolf. We need to find allies. We need to bring together all those who care about the user experience.
Take the time to seek out people who share your belief and want the company to be more user centric. Start talking to them. Create a Slack channel or mailing list. Get together over lunch. Keep in touch. Share experiences and ideas.
Establish a common vision
Of course, chatting over lunch or in Slack isn’t going to bring about change. For that, you need to start a movement. You need to unite the group around a common goal, around a common cause.
As a group, start exploring what a more user-centric company would look like. Also, discuss what it would take to get there. How would the company need to operate differently?
Work to raise the profile of users
But don’t stop there. Start raising the profile of the user across the company. There are so many opportunities available. Things like:
- Running open usability test session.
- Displaying customer journey maps and empathy maps throughout the company
- Send a regular company wide email newsletter with customer insights.
- Share highlight videos of usability test sessions.
- Put on lunchtime talks on user experience.
The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. Hell, you could even change everybody’s screensaver to show user personas!
Best of all you can do all of this without management support. Your group of like-minded people does not need to be a formal committee. In fact, it is better if it is not. The profile building efforts can almost certainly be done as a part of your everyday job.
What all this does is build excitement and momentum within the company. It gets people talking about and interested in user experience. That will make it much easier when it comes to convincing management and other stakeholders to take action.
User Experience Revolution
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User Centric Culture Cards
Looking for some inspiration on how to bring about change? Get 52 tips and techniques for shifting the culture of your workplace.
Convincing others to care about the user experience
You will be surprised at just how far you can get without really winning anybody over to the user experience cause. To begin with, those like-minded people you seek out will need very little convincing. But the time will come when you need to get others on board, not least management.
Getting managements support
Jared Spool once wrote an excellent article entitled “Why I can’t convince executives to invest in UX (and neither can you)”. He was, of course, entirely right. It is tough to change people’s minds and especially hard when dealing with senior management. Every day they deal with employees pushing various agendas. Every day they spend saying no to people in an attempt to keep things moving in the direction they envision.
How then can we move management past paying lip-service to user experience and focus the business on becoming more user-centric? Well, as Jared goes on to say in his post, we need to focus on things that management already cares about.
Take a moment to think about your immediate line manager. What does that person care about? Maybe it is meeting an annual target. Maybe it is achieving the budgetary cuts imposed upon her. If you want to be cynical, perhaps it is getting her end of year bonus.
Once you know that, you can frame the work you have been doing with user experience within that context. It may take a little imagination, but it is possible.
If you want to improve some aspect of the user experience, your manager will want to know what benefits it will provide. Not benefits to the user and to be honest not even benefits to the company as a whole. She will want to know the benefits for her and her department. In other words, you are applying user-centric thinking to your management. You are identifying their needs and addressing them.
But before management will listen to you, you need to improve your credibility, especially if you want them to make a significant investment in time or resources. Start small by asking for a bit of time to create a proof of concept.
Also, be careful your requests don’t just sound like moaning. Too often we can come off as negative. It is okay to highlight shortcomings in the user experience, but follow up with a solid plan of how to address these concerns. Always remain positive and upbeat.
But even with management support, the battle isn’t over. To bring about lasting organisational change you need to win over colleagues too.
Winning over colleagues
Here is the problem; people don’t like to change how they work. Change feels dangerous. Change takes effort. It’s not that they don’t care about users. They just want the path of least resistance.
That means if we want our colleagues to change the way they work to be more user-centric, we need to put a lot of thought into how to motivate them.
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. But there are things to keep in mind. In fact, I tend to use five techniques for winning over colleagues and encouraging them to be more user-centric.
- Always keep them informed. A lack of information can cause fear and that breeds resentment. Make sure they understand what is going on.
- Inspire them about the potential. People are more likely to embrace change if they can see the benefits it will bring and are excited by the possibilities.
- Educate them about the value of change. If you want colleagues to behave differently, you must take the time to educate them as to why this is necessary. You cannot expect people to change just because you tell them.
- Involve them in creating change. We don’t have all the answers, and so we need to collaborate with others over change. That also gives people a sense of ownership over the change you are proposing.
- Change the metrics to change the people. The way the company assesses and incentivises people impacts whether they are willing to adopt new approaches. Management needs to make sure they measure people against the right metrics.
In truth winning over colleagues can be harder than winning over management. That is because colleagues are concerned with the day-to-day operations. In other words, they are focused on the details of their job, rather than the bigger picture. That means working with them can be frustrating. So frustrating in fact that it can lead to us making mistakes.
Avoiding the pitfalls and overcoming resistance
The biggest mistake I see teams making is trying to exclude colleagues from improving the user experience. After all, they don’t seem to get it or even care. It just seems simpler to bypass them entirely and just get on with it without them. But this is a huge mistake.
For a start, people do not react well to being excluded and ignored, even if it is a subject they don’t care hugely about. That inevitably leads to confrontation, especially when we surprise them with the results of our work.
People don’t like surprises and having things forced upon them. In most cases, it overwhelms them, and this leads to a knee-jerk reaction. Even if it doesn’t, because they haven’t been involved or educated about what you are doing, they will not see the value of it.
Also, you are going to find it hard to frame the work in the right way for your colleagues to accept it if you haven’t engaged with them. You won’t understand their agenda and so cannot help them see the benefits it will provide them personally.
In short, you need to engage colleagues early and often if you want to win them over. If you don’t, you will find yourself battling with resistance.
Helping others picture a better user experience
Much of the time the problem with adoption of user-centric thinking comes down to people’s inability to see how things could be better. To them the user experience is okay. They cannot see the problems we perceive.
Now one approach is to point out all the pain points users experience. That is certainly a valid approach. In fact, I am a huge fan of creating lowlight videos, showing users struggling with various aspects of the user experience. But we shouldn’t stop there; we should be seeking to help colleagues and management see how much better the user experience could be.
The problem is that telling others how much better things could be is not enough. As user experience professionals we tend to find it easier to imagine a better experience and empathise with users than our colleagues. If we want others to see what we see, we need to show them.
We have a couple of tools available to us to help paint a picture of a better user experience. There are customer journey maps and prototypes.
The role of customer journey maps in selling a better user experience
We often use customer journey maps to represent the current user journey. But that doesn’t have to be the only way we use them. We can also use them to show what the user journey could be. How the user experience could be better.
That in itself will help colleagues and management to picture the benefits of being more user-centric. But customer journey mapping the future user experience will have an even bigger impact if you get your colleagues involved in the creation of the map. By running a customer journey mapping workshop with colleagues you get them thinking through what the user experience could be and start to educate them about what being more user-centric is all about.
But even better is to get colleagues and management involved in building prototypes.
The benefits of prototyping
We all know that prototyping is a valuable tool in creating a better user experience. But prototyping has many other advantages too. Not least of which is their ability to create a shared vision of the future. A vision built around user needs.
Again, you could build a prototype yourself. But it is much more powerful if you do so with colleagues. One way to do this is to run a design sprint. This structured week-long exercise will expose colleagues to user-centric best practice, but also introduce them to the idea of user testing.
Of course getting members of senior management to set aside a week to prototype is a tall order. But maybe you could find time to at least do some wireframing together. To imagine how important pages in the customer journey could be improved. Admittedly this isn’t going to transform your culture, but it will get them to start thinking about things from the users perspective. It is also the first step towards a minimum viable product, that can act as a proof of concept for user-centric thinking.
Where to get help creating a user-centric culture
I have done my best in this guide to point you in the right direction and encourage you that creating a user-centric culture is within your grasp. But let’s be honest, this is a big challenge. A challenge that can feel downright overwhelming when you’re knee deep in it.
With that in mind, you may want to get some outside help. Generally speaking, a cultural change should come from within the company. But you may find additional training useful or even the help of somebody to kick start the process and hold your hand through the initial stages.
Whatever the case, I am here to help.
I offer two workshops that will help you kick start your user experience revolution. I would love to give them to your company.