Why Great UX Is Everybody’s Business

by on 09/24/15 at 8:31 am

When you or I have a problem, it’s pretty easy for us to imagine a solution. And that solution is filtered through our experiences and responsibilities. So if I’m a Business Analyst, for example, I may look to my statistical research for answers.

If I’m a Product Owner, I’ll fall back on established User Stories, or create a new one I think solves the problem. If I’m a UX consultant, I’ll likely look to existing user research or start planning to do some. If I’m a Developer, I’m going to look into tools and processes that demonstrate possible ways to solve the challenge. If I’m a UI designer, I’m likely to fast-forward to how the UI interaction might behave.

These are all, in and of themselves, solid, time-tested approaches. At the same time, they are all fundamentally, inherently flawed.

Why? Because each only addresses a small slice of what the real problem — and appropriate solution — truly is. When there’s an issue with a digital product, the problem is almost never one thing. It’s rarely just usability, rarely just the underlying technology, rarely just the UI design, etc. It’s almost always a combination of those things, all of which is usually the result of a larger team or organizational issue.

And that larger issue is usually the fact that these folks aren’t collaborating and leveraging each other’s expertise in order to come up with the right answer — the one that delivers something valuable to users. The one that, as a result of delivering that value, helps their organization make or save money.

This is nobody’s fault, mind you. Everyone is doing what they do best, and what they’re trained to do. What’s missing is a shared focus on User Experience; a common lens with which to filter their activities. What I’ve learned across nearly three decades is that without this filter, without this focus, a great deal of time and money and effort is completely wasted.

I believe in this fact so deeply and so vehemently that I dedicated an entire book to the very topic. It’s called Think First: My No-Nonsense Approach to Creating Successful Products, Powerful User Experiences and Very Happy Customers. And it’s core mantra is this: great UX is everybody’s business — and it starts with what’s between our ears.

thinkfirstcover

It’s not what you do, it’s how you think

On the first day I sit down with executives and team leaders, I spell out some version of the above. And then I explain that the goal is not to radically change their existing workflows and processes. Mainly because that never, ever works in enterprise organizations, but more so because it won’t solve anything. The key is changing how people think about what they do, and the degree to which they interact with each other. It’s also about getting everyone to see how their decisions affect everyone else — and therefore the quality of the user experience:

  • Every feature mandated by a Product Owner before consulting with the team at large introduces the possibility that the team will spend 2 weeks on something that doesn’t really need to be solved, because it has no effect on perceived or delivered value to customers.
  • Every Use Case a Business Analyst develops without talking to UX or Designers or end users increases the possibility that interactions and workflows will run counter to what people expect or are willing to use.
  • Every choice a Database Architect makes without talking to Designers or Developers limits their ability to stand up data and interaction in the UI in a way that’s expected or appropriate for users.
  • Every style decision a UI Designer makes without consulting Business Analysts or Developers introduces unexpected time and effort on decoration instead of design, expanding scope and putting budgets at risk.

Get the idea? When people are working in relative isolation, the majority of their time and focus is on cold facts and predetermined needs and approaches; we do what we’ve always done, what we know best. The messy human emotional component that drives cognition, expectation and motivation — which is the key to great UX – is missing. Everyone is certainly looking into what can happen or should happen in a process or series of interactions, but the “UX lens” that allows us to learn how people feel about those interactions and processes is missing.

Add the fact that most people — designers included —aren’t traditionally trained to ask the kind of questions and conduct the type of inquiry that digs deeper into underlying expectation and motivation. The result? Those keys to success never surface. The team works hard and long, but the end result satisfies no one. It’s a lousy place to be.

Hiring a UXer isn’t the answer either.

Common thinking is often that if we “hire some UX people” the problems will go away. When I’m asked to work with an organization, the assumption at that point is that I’ll solve these issues for them and they’ll stay solved.

Truth is, they won’t — not until everyone learns to filter the work of their specific role through the lens of good UX. Until everyone takes moment prior to acting to ask themselves three critical questions:

  1. Is this worth doing? Will the time and effort spent deliver some meaningful, measurable result? How does it contribute to positive UX and to delivering value, both to users and back to the business?
  2. Does everyone agree on and understand what we’re creating? Does every member of the team share the same understanding of what’s being built and why it matters?
  3. What value does it deliver? Does this improvement, feature or function facilitate a desired outcome, for both customers and the organization? And do we know it will deliver that value, or are we guessing?

There are other questions, of course — but the simple act of stopping to think about these things will often change what happens next, in a very positive way. This is what I preach, the message I do my best to hammer home while working with organizations. And that message is the reason I wrote Think First. I go to great lengths to explain why what’s between your ears is infinitely more powerful than anything you can do with your hands. Anything ever worth doing started with a strategy; if you don’t know why something matters, you don’t know if it’ll succeed, either.

Strategy is a stand or fall proposition. If you fail to get everyone thinking in a strategic manner about what constitutes positive UX, you are building something that people either don’t want or won’t be able to use. And when that happens, there’s no win for the organization either; that planned profit or increased market share or reduced operating costs never materialize.

Until everyone considers how their decisions impact strategic issues, the proportion of effort to result will remain grossly unbalanced. You’ll certainly be moving fast, plowing through a monstrous amount of heavy lifting — but you’ll be doing it on a treadmill.

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Joe Natoli is the author of Think First: My no-nonsense approach to creating successful products, memorable user experiences and happy customers. His online UX courses serve over 30,000 students, and he has consulted with and trained Fortune 500 and 100 organizations for nearly three decades. His articles, tips and advice can be found at givegoodux.com.

11 Responses to “Why Great UX Is Everybody’s Business”

  1. Duri Paly

    Sep 24th, 2015

    This is great written article by Mr. Natoli. People need cooperation between their roles from beginning of times. And creating products in our time isn’t exemption.
    Just example, what for bread would it be when the mill would deliver grinded tomatoes instead of common-type flour to the bakery?!
    Every part of team needs to talk to others when they are doing something together.
    And if you want to read some more suggestions how to make better UX and consequently your products, the book “Think First” is just for you.

  2. Alice Casari

    Sep 24th, 2015

    I think that UX is fundamental today for create good products, useful, usable and enjoyable! This new technique, however, has been simplified to only appearance and thus lost some of its value. Joe Natoli teaches us to be complete and I appreciate it. The book “Think first” teaches the true art of UX and this makes the book valuable and unique.
    Thanks Joe and good luck! 😀

  3. Adail Retamal

    Sep 24th, 2015

    A sage posed a question to his disciples: “Which one is best: a fast horse or a slow horse?” They quickly answered: “The fast one!” To which the sage replied: “It depends if you are going on the right path.” So here is Joe once more, reminding us that we should aim for the right target, as best as we can, before spending our time, energy and money going fast. Excellent exhortation, Joe! Thanks again!

  4. Suzanne Ankerbrand

    Sep 25th, 2015

    Having worked in an enterprise organization for years, and watched as projects have failed or floundered, I completely agree with Joe’s expert advice. UX is everyone’s business. If we could just slow down and Think First as Joe advises before running madly to get it done before that golden drop dead launch date, projects would be much more successful. This book is a must read for everyone on a project team, as well as the stakeholders, VPs, CEOs, etc!

  5. Gelis Lara

    Sep 26th, 2015

    I like this article and the way you explain the relationship between all people in a project to have a good UX.

  6. Corey Malone

    Sep 27th, 2015

    Agreed, It is very important for everyone on a team to have a UX lens because the UX team cannot possibly be there to help make every decision in the organization.

  7. Joe Natoli

    Sep 29th, 2015

    Thank you all for the thoughtful comments — and for the book plugs :-) This has always been a hot-button issue for me. If you’ve ever seen the movie “BIG” with Tom Hanks, there’s a scene where he’s sitting in a meeting with the executive team of a toy company. They’re coming up with toy ideas that make sense to them — a group of middle-aged men — instead of focusing on their consumers, who are kids.

    Hanks raises his hand and says “Uh…I don’t get it.” Everyone in the room is shocked, but he’s really the only one who sees that they’re designing for themselves, working in isolation.

    I’ve been that guy my entire life, and I encourage you all to do the same. Every person involved affects the outcome, so every person in every role has to learn to look at the issues on the table through the filter of good UX. Simply asking whether a user would find something useful, usable or valuable is often enough to re-focus the conversation toward a productive outcome.

  8. Raguram

    Sep 29th, 2015

    Couldnt agree more! I loved the part where you say “Its not what you do but how you think”. Good luck Joe!

  9. Stephen Hustedde

    Sep 30th, 2015

    Blessed to have had a preview of Think First by Joe Natoli…it is really helping me to focus on the unique audience for the app and what will best meet their true needs, expectations, and resolver their frustrations. Forget traditions and solutions to other markets…my audience is unique and I have to THINK FIRST about them!

  10. Ann Wuyts

    Oct 16th, 2015

    Great article on joined responsibilities and the need for more cross-departmental cooperation and communication. Ordered the book, will devour it, and hopefully pass it along at the company. 😉

    As all our products more and more get both a digital and a personal dimension, this cross-departmental approach is not needed solely to create great UX, it’s also needed to get in line on CX, and – very important – privacy. (Which to me, is also part of the UX, as trust matters.) Maybe the whole ‘department’ idea is a tad 2010?

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