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Oct 10, 2002: Evangelizing User Experience Design on Ten Dollars a Day

Care to join me in some brainstorming?

I'm curious to know what you find to be effective, low-cost techniques for making the case for investing in user experience design. For example, here are my current favorites:

  • The ROI Case: Not my personal favorite, because I think ROI cases are generally hooey. But, when used carefully and ethically, these can be valuable for convincing bottom-liners that UX has merit. After all, everyone likes to do things that make or save money.
  • Going to the Videotape: Showing highlight tapes of frustrated users wrangling with a poorly-designed site is a tried and true technique. And they're just plain fun to watch.
  • Telling Stories: Tales of design-related horror are effective because the person you're telling your story to begins to identify with the story's sad but spunky hero. Of course, thanks to UX, the story has a happy ending, and hopefully your target will envision a similar outcome for his own project.
  • Therapy: Getting your target on the couch is another approach that's worked for me. The goal is to help them articulate their UX-related pain, and once they get going, they sometimes never stop. You get to listen and throw in a few words of advice as your client vents and, in the process, sells himself on the potential of UX solutions to his problems.
  • Consumer Sensitivity Boot Camp: If you can't get them on the couch, maybe you can get decision-makers to actually try using the site they're responsible for. Give them a few common tasks, and keep a white board ready as the gripes roll in...
  • Logs: Although they leave a lot of room for interpretation, server and search logs are a rich source of actual and incontrovertible usage data. Plus they're free. If you interpret them carefully and reasonably, you can paint a partial picture of what's really going wrong for users.
  • Keeping up with the Joneses: It may be less effective in these days of skimpy budgets, but showing what the competition is up to is another time-tested way to make the case for investing in UX.

OK, that's my list; how about you? What low-cost techniques for selling any aspect of user experience design have carried your day?

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Comment: Derek R (Oct 10, 2002)

> making the case

Hi Lou.

We all know work is made for the pioneer and the pioneer made for work.

Since you are a pioneer you already know that opportunity to evangelize is a 'cup runneth over' situation, in that you can do it all-the-time in all places -- and you can't lose!

Conversely -- if you slip you're gonna slide -- no way around that one. Keep your eye on the ball.

This is the best advice.

Comment: Josh (Oct 14, 2002)

I have been streaming a live feed of the usability testing to the executives. They rarely have time to watch, but just seeing one has really built up interest.

Comment: -challis (Oct 14, 2002)

If a site is hard to use you only have an ROI if you can make the site easier to use AND prove or demonstrate an increase in productivity or sales. The above are great but they don't demonstaret ROI from a business perspective. Therapy is close since one could assume the executive has already identified a pain point and a business case for fixing it.

Comment: Lou (Oct 14, 2002)

Love the live video idea, Josh.

Challis, do you think ROI really can be proven when it comes to IA?

Comment: christina (Oct 17, 2002)

good toolset

this may sound unintuitable, but a good toolset means that when people balk at UCD, you can say-- okay, let's just bring in five users at prototype time, or let's do personas or let's do a cognative walkthrough--- no matter the budget or timeline, you should have a user-centered process to pull on.

Comment: anu gupta (Oct 18, 2002)

streaming video - I agree, great idea. We digitise key clips and show them in review meetings with clients, which we've found helps a lot.

wrt ROI - I know it's hard, and currently there's no methodical way [that I know of] to show it, but my belief is that a way of finding the measures has to be found, otherwise IA will always be cut from the process if money's tight - you can only say "But I'm sure it helps..." so many times, before being called for proof.

Comment: Kaushik (Oct 18, 2002)

I don't have any hands on involvement in creative UI work. But from a project management / client engagement perspective:

-It is always a combination of methods.
-Also, the technique you deploy really depends a great deal on the type of client / organization, personality profile of the TA etc.

For fortune 500 orgs, an ROI always helps (though they are usually the most wasteful). Unfortunately, ROI studies are largely crap. But they serves two useful purposes:
1. There is always a whole bunch of people who are weighing in with opinions with whom you may not have face time - specially those with a bean counters background. No one in the suites has any problem with saving money.

2. It gives ammunition to your allies inside the client company who actually get it.

If you can cogently articulate the advantages and cost savings (monetarize even the intangible benefits), it will help.

This should always be backed up with stories and / or 'keeeping up with the Joneses' argument.

For smaller clients, the couch helps a lot more.

I have not known of the videotapes being used. Seems intersting.

Hope I don't sound cynical ...

Comment: josh (Oct 18, 2002)

Another quick comment on the streaming video.

This is so easy to do it is ridiculous. I always have a DV Cam pointed at the screen during testing, so I just connect it to my powerbook via firewire. Then I use quicktime broadcaster (http://www.apple.com/quicktime/products/broadcaster/) to stream it. It literally took 3 minutes to get it set up.

I am in-house, so those of you who are consultants might have different needs.

Comment: Squirm (Oct 18, 2002)

The "customer service" mantra of the 1990's is an ignored cliche among most of the waffleheads in management these days.

Some organizations, however, proudly use elaborate customer service audits, to track "transactional efficiency coefficients" as a planning, management, and training tool.

If they find value in this related aspect of customer metrics and evaluation, maybe you can sell the investment in user-experience design as "the other white meat."

They are doing (crude) UED but not in all apects of their business.

Sell them what they are already buying.

Comment: Lou (Oct 21, 2002)

Yep, lots of cynicism here, especially from you Squirm. ;-) Maybe *that's* an important part of the toolkit, no? But I'd like to think we can balance the cynical perspective of "the ends justifies the means" with such ethical considerations as educating clients about the true value of each of these approaches?

Comment: Dell (Oct 21, 2002)

How about "Counting up Complaints"? Customers call or e-mail in their gripes and we track them all. A handful of real quotes from upset customers or a high number of calls about the same thing can sometimes start the ball rolling for me. It's another way to use the pain factor. I like the 'other white meat' spin on this as well.

Another one is "Sales Potential". I've heard sales staff tell potential clients how usable our products are as a result of user centered design practices. I've found that reminding folks that UCD is an important bullet in their Power Point slide can sometimes nudge things along.

But my favorite is the "Ambush" technique. Between me, the marketing team, customer service supervisor, and an IT ally or two, we can almost always convince execs to focus on doing the right thing for the user. Agreeing on what that is can be the *real* challenge.

Comment: Rick Starbuck (Oct 29, 2002)

The soundbyte approach is best for busy execs, etc.

One effective technique has been to define Usability/User Experience as the "service aspect of a brand online."

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