How many times have you seen your hard work go down the drain because it is “out of scope” or “not in budget”? How many times have you been shot down, disappointed, or unmotivated, because no matter how well designed and researched your solution is, it simply cannot be done? How can we, as UX Designers, stop this cycle from happening… more importantly how can we bring experience design into the conversation at a higher level so that experience decisions aren’t determined solely on project budget, but that they are bought into before the budget is even determined? How? Easy… learn where the money comes from.
The current state of most UX Designers, whether in-house, agency, or indie is that we simply are unaware of how money and budgeting works for the projects we are on as well as for the organizations that we work with and for. Instead of learning this we keep our eyes focused on the prize… which is the user experience. We find out all about the business need, user mental models, gaps, wants, etc… and use all of these factors to create the absolute best user experience possible for everyone. This is not necessarily wrong, afterall its what we’ve been trained to do, and it is a method that works.
The problem comes in when our solutions are out of scope, over budget, or just do not align with the sponsor’s end goals. Thus, our design solution, although well researched and informed, is not holistic. We are not fully aware, of how this solution will make the sponsor money, and how that money could lead to future innovations to our solution (and thus a better user experience). The business world is a cycle of earning money and spending money. Our solutions earn the business money, shouldn’t we also be aware of how that money is spent?
So, how do we solve this problem… how do we close this gap so that we can ensure a holistic, bought into, researched and designed user experience solution. First, we need to be sponges. Yes, sponges. We need to look at the project around us and be observant to how the money is moving through the project. Who in the organization (in house, or client side) is funding this effort? What type of monetary measurements (10% more users, 15% higher conversion rates, etc) will make this project successful? What other types of success measures are there? How is the project manager estimating spending of the budget (20% design, 40% development, 40% business, etc)? How can we ensure that our solutions fit into that budget? By asking these base questions, YOU begin to form a model around how money is being earned and spent. The next step would be, if possible, to take these learnings to the next level. Take them out of the project realm and start to apply them to the business level. For example, begin finding answers to questions like: what group in the organization has the biggest design budget and why? How can I up the design budgets in other parts of the organization? What are there intentions for innovation and development this year? How does design fit into the overall budget for the organization? How much revenue do my solutions bring into the company? How much revenue and profit will be put towards the design budget? etc. These types of questions take a good relationship as well as time to answer, but it is possible to get these answers… I’ve been there, trust me.
Lastly, if we learn about the money, design now becomes part of the business as opposed to just another resource on a project. As I mentioned previously, our solutions directly effect revenue and profit, therefore, effecting budgeting and future enhancements and innovations. By learning about and inserting ourselves into conversations about money we can begin to counter the “that’s not in the budget” comments with conversations like these:
PM: “That’s not in scope”
UXD: “How much of the budget will this solution take up?”
PM: “10% of the budget.”
UXD: “This solution will bring us in 5% more revenue then the original solution. Does that change the budget?”
PM: “Good point, let’s go talk to the sponsor.”
That, dear UXers, is a productive conversation. As opposed to preaching what’s best for the user (which we should always do) and relying on people’s good will and conscience to accept our decisions we have now inserted ourselves into the business side of things. The conversation can and should be taken to an even higher level. Sponsors with money to spend on innovation start looking to and need UXers to spend their money wisely. They want to get the most bang for their buck and that means getting more revenue, which can only happen with better design. Thus the solutions need to provide the best experience for the user… which is where you come in.
So, learn about the money. I know it’s scary, seems like you’re selling out, and seems like a job for someone else, but in order to advance the UX profession we as a group need to start integrating experience design into the business side of things. A coach cannot be a head coach for a professional football team if they are only aware of the game logistics. They need to understand offense, defense, recruiting, player management, funding, spending… all facets of the business and sport. That is how coaches integrate themselves into the football business. We need to learn about the money in order to become the “head coaches” of experience design for the organizations we serve. We need to be holistic and understand the root that all businesses are based off of… the cash.