Do you value your role in the user experience revolution?

Paul Boag

Many of us know that the organisations we work for provide a terrible user experience. But we believe we are powerless to bring about change. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post encouraging people to become user experience advocates. But writing something like that is a lot easier than doing it. It is easy to feel that we are powerless to bring about change in our organisations. The existing culture can feel so embedded, that change feels impossible. But that is not true.

As part of the research for my upcoming book, I have been investigating how companies come to adopt a more user centric culture. It turns out that we can all make a difference no matter how junior our position. Small actions on our part can lead to bigger change.

Be encouraged. The little things matter.

It can feel like even the smallest change is a battle. But these little victories can make a big difference over time.

Victories like moving away from long specification documents to a culture of prototyping. This is something that Unilever has been doing in some parts of the organisation and it is having bigger ramifications. Stakeholders love the tangibility of a prototype. But at the same time it encourages them to be more user centric in their thinking. It is also changing the way they build digital services and encouraging a more agile mindset.

Something as simple as prototyping can start to shift organisational culture.
Something as simple as prototyping can start to shift organisational culture.

But Unilever are not alone. Disney and Marriott have both adopted prototyping too. In all three cases this move began by small groups of isolated individuals changing the way they worked. These are not top down initiatives.

How we choose to work matters. Another team I spoke with started embedding customer service staff within development teams. This decision to collaborate ensures they consider the customers needs when developing digital services.

But these small changes will take time to have a bigger impact. That is why it is so important that we persevere.

Never give up. Never surrender.

After reading Steve Krug’s book “Rocket Surgery Made Easy” one team instigated monthly usability testing. Each month they invited colleagues from across the organisation.

Rocket Surgery Made Easy introduces open monthly usability testing. An approach that can shift attitudes among colleagues.
Rocket Surgery Made Easy introduces open monthly usability testing. An approach that can shift attitudes among colleagues.

For many months nobody attended outside of the team. They persevered, inviting others each month. In time one or two people started to come along. Inspired, these people started to tell others and over time attendance grew.

Although the company was not revolutionised, this small change has made a difference. It is not uncommon to hear stakeholders suggest testing rather than making decisions in meetings.

Consistently engaging with colleagues and sharing user experience best practice is so important. It is not enough for us to do our jobs well. We need to be selling the value of user experience to our colleagues.

This is something that the Government Digital service here in the UK does so well. When I met with them recently they told me about the many things they do to engage with colleagues across government. From internal conferences and training to service manuals, they are always promoting best practice.

That is not always easy. Many other departments are reluctant to change. But they do not give up and over time they are seeing significant changes in attitude.

You don't need to be the boss to make big changes happen

We often complain that management don’t get it. That they don’t embrace a user centric culture. That we feel the organisation prevents us from doing our job properly. But we are the ones that can bring about change. Big changes almost always start small.

Samsung's <a href=design culture began with a single report being commissioned.”/>
Samsung's design culture began with a single report being commissioned.

The $1 billion investment in the Disney Magicband begun with a prototype in an abandoned warehouse. A small group of people at the BBC are championing a network of accessibility advocates. Advocates who are changing the way the institution operates. Samsung has become known as a leader in design. Yet that begun with one person commissioning an outside consultant to look at their approach to innovation.

Never believe that you cannot bring about change no matter how large the organisation you work for. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick, but it is possible as I explore in my upcoming book.