The Real Business Value of UX
For the past few weeks, I have been the client for a discovery process to better understand the entrepreneurial mindset. It has been an eye opening exercise, and I have learned a lot from our user research team about the workings of the “entrepreneur brain”. This brain is the same one that many of our business people, even in corporations, have. It is an incredibly creative, hugely passionate, but, often times, an unable to execute on the idea brain. These folks usually just know that their ideas are good ones, that people and society need their help, and that, at whatever cost, they will succeed in making the world a better place. This brain is a noble one, however, there is just one tiny problem. This brain often doesn’t know how to build software products, and worse, it thinks that this whole UX thing, is just to make the product look good. Lastly, it thinks that if it makes the product look good, people will love it. Oh boy are they wrong.
“Can you help us make the UX better? We’re certain if we have a great design that people will like and use our product, and it will become viral.” These were the words of one startup founder that attended some recent advisory sessions that I was holding at their co-working space in NYC. This startup, like many businesses, knew they had a good idea, and they were convinced that if only someone could fix “the UX”, they would become hugely successful.
I have to admit I run into these types of people in all types of businesses. From the largest corporations to the smallest startups, there is always someone who concepted the idea and is pushing it to become reality. Thing is they don’t really know how to do that except for sweat equity. I.e. They work as hard as possible and viola their dream becomes reality (at least in their point of view this is how it “should” work). These folks are also the ones that tend to think that design can save them, and that a great interface will make their product the next Facebook (I have seriously heard this several times… in one day), and that interface they need can be found through one person, a UX person.
We are use to business people seeing UX as the interface. Famous individuals like the late Steve Jobs and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have used the term “the experience” in all the wrong ways to fail to market the real value of UX. And, to be fair, many UXers themselves still do the same thing in talking about the experience and what UX is.
However, I’m not writing today to scold UXers and business folks on using the incorrect terminology. Nor am I writing this piece to lament the failure of UXers and business folks to properly market the UX profession. Instead, I want to point out that this entrepreneurial mindset, one that so desperately needs help to see their ideas come to life, overlooks one big thing when they think about UX. It is something that is not talked about outside of UX walls, but it is probably the most valuable thing that we UX professionals can provide to our business people. That thing? Process.
Yes, UX is all about Process, or at least I believe a big part of it should be. And business folks overlook this for two reasons: 1. UX doesn’t market it and 2. Most don’t know software development at all, and don’t want to. They just want their idea to save the world, and their blood, sweat and tears will get them there. Thus, they don’t NEED to know that UX is process. OK Lis, this information is all well and good, but, so what?
Well after studying business folks and entrepreneurs for a bit, I, and my teammates, have come to realize that process is the biggest gap they need to fill in order to see their dreams become reality. For years UXers have been convinced that businesses need to know their users, that they need to understand their technology, that they need personas, and card sorting and insert another UX term here. “If only the business had these things it would be successful.”, is a term we UXers often say. But, we have been looking at the tree, not the forest. All of these things are owned up to Process. What do I mean?
I mean, the business needs to know the users so that they build the right product for them and don’t waste all their resources churning on technology. This is solved with process. They need personas so that they have empathy for their user and can speed up their design and development prioritization and execution, another outptut of process. They need card sorting so that they can understand how users will find stuff on their site so that the business doesn’t, once again, spend money to fix and fix and fix the navigation. Another component of the UX process. Our business folks need process, and the outputs of it, and that is what we provide as UXers.
Because UX doesn’t sell our process we get overlooked as the process people. Thus Business people don’t hire us to help them to execute their product in total, just to design the interface. So, what tends to happen is they either 1. Spend all of their money churning on developing software that is good, but that their users don’t want. 2. They build too early, and end up losing money trying to “see” what it would look like or 3. Their product doesn’t meet user needs and, somehow, doesn’t go viral as “it should”…. Or we see a combination of these.
The point, products aren’t successful, money is wasted and the world never becomes the better place that the business person’s idea should have made it.
However, there is good news. UX can help! How? We first need to start selling UX as a process to an end. Business people are our users, and we know what they need. That is, help figuring out the most cost efficient way to build the most successful software. That is what we UXers need to be selling.
But the onus is not just on UX. The second solution is that the business people themselves need to realize there is a new set of solutions in town and it is not all out of Tech Crunch, Harvard Business Review, and Mashable. Although these are all great sources, if you want to execute on products that are successful, are not cash drains and that meet user needs, you need the UX process. You can find the UX process by looking at other resources such as Boxes and Arrows, UX Magazine, this blog, and others like it.
The outcomes of seeing UX as a Process are simple. Business people can finally see their ideas really change the world. Why? Because the solutions include the user, are tailored towards them, and the business itself didn’t waste all of it’s money developing what it “thinks” users need. Therefore there are still resources to develop further and make the product even better.
On the UX side of things we maybe, just maybe, are seen as more than interface people. Any step towards that is a good thing.
The moral of the story is, UX, we have a market that needs our help. We have handfulls of business people with great ideas, but no idea on how to not screw them up (and I’ve seen the user research on this!). Business people you have success right on the tip of your fingers, if you are humble enough to take the help. You, business people, need process and lucky for you that is what UX is. Are we all ready to admit that?