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The only way we'll get a seat at the table is if we act like we deserve to be there. In this talk, I explain how to stop waiting for permission, build your power base, and change the company culture to effect a UX takeover at your organization.

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  • So what’s the problem? Why don’t we have those things already?We’re just “creatives” not business people, so we don’t get any respectNobody knows what UX is, so they don’t understand what we doPeople think we just make things look prettyAnd that seems like something you do at the end of the project, or maybe not at all if you don’t have the budget
  • Historically, our strategy to deal with this has been to get better at communicating the value of UX.If people understand what we do, they’ll respect us and give us the resources we need to do good UX design.Here’s the problem: it’s not working. Nobody wants to hear about the value of UX.
  • Whether conscious of it or not, this is how many of us think we’re going to get that seat at the table.Communicating the value of UX until we get respect -- When people will understand what we dowe’ll get those design opportunities -- Then we can prove that UX really works!The problem is we’re stuck in step 1 – explaining and debating, getting nowhere, waiting like wallflowers to be asked to dance. I call this the “external validation model” – because it puts success out of our control and into the hands of our clients, bosses, or managers. We need to break out of this cycle. Stop talking, stop explaining, stop debating, stop trying to define the damn thing. Start DOING UX.
  • We need to prove it.You want to convince business owners to spend money on UX? Prove that it’s worth the investment.You want to get buy-in for that user research? Prove that user research works.You want a seat at the table? Prove that you deserve to be there.Without the intimate, first-hand experience that comes from doing UX, how can we ever hope to be persuasive? Without the confidence that comes from that experience, how can we ever hope to convince people to part with their money and resources?
  • The internal validation model means we’re always arguing from a position of weakness.We need to have the conversation about value AFTER we’ve proven that the UX process works, not before. Think about the difference between saying, “Please give me resources to do 3 days of user research because it’s really, really, really important.” Versus, “Here’s the result of some quick, informal research. We think we’ve uncovered 3 major usability issues so I’d like to talk to a few more users to validate these results.”We don’t want to be supplicants asking for handouts. We want to make the argument for resources from a position of power. As equals. With something of value to bargain with.
  • That calls for a new model. Here’s how I think it’s going to work:First, create your own opportunities to do UX – How? I’ll get to that.When you have results, you can demonstrate value – not just to others, but to yourself.Demonstrated value will earn respect from clients and managers.That respect and trust will open doors to more opportunities and greater influence at the company, or with your clients.
  • The best invasion plans always have prongs. Here are the 3 prongs of the UX takeover.First: Not going to wait for permission – ignore the org chart, act like we’re in charge, and find opportunities to do UXSecond: Build a power base – find our natural allies and win hearts and minds by improving user experiences at the workplaceThird: Change the company culture – by replicating our values and processes as widely as we can
  • Don’t wait for permission. Stop waiting to be asked to dance. Get out there and dance by yourself if you have to.If you’re a consultant, it means getting out there and doing user research or usability testing however you can, even if the client won’t pay for it. You’re going to have to demonstrate value first, then work with them to find the resources to do it properly next time. Or use those results to persuade the next client.We have to stop being hung up on doing things properly, or by the book. Any research and testing is better than none. Even if you fail, knowing when something doesn’t work, is just as useful as knowing when it does.
  • You can’t argue with results. Especially in business.What’s the worse thing that could happen if you went off and did user interviews without getting permission from your boss? You might get in trouble, but chances are, you’re going to uncover some issues or insights that the team wouldn’t have known about otherwise. If you do get in trouble, here’s your excuse: I did it because I thought it was important for the project. Nobody can argue with that, they can only argue with your methods. And now you’re having a different conversation – about why you had to sneak around to do your job in the first place.
  • There’s nothing more powerful in business than being the sort of person who doesn’t wait to be told – the sort of person who acts and is willing to accept the risks associated with those actions. As long as your actions are justifiably what’s good for the project and the company, you will always have the moral high ground. And think about this: Who would you rather work with – someone who plays by the rules and keeps their head down, or someone who occasionally takes chances but who gets results and pushes for change? If you’re that second person, guess what? You’re going to attract a following. But that’s the next prong.
  • Maybe it’s because I spent 13 years running my own business before I went in-house, but I still think of myself as a consultant. I’m just consulting for a single client now. If you think about it, if you’re doing UX in house, you’re essentially a service provider within the company. And unlike being an independent consultant, you’re basically a free resource. In that respect, UX is a lot easier to sell in-house.If you decide you’re outside the org chart, then nothing is off-limits. You can look for work anywhere. Suddenly you’re not pigeonholed by the group that you’re nominally a part of, you can forge your own identity with the rest of the company, your own relationships. And more importantly, forge an identity for UX.
  • If we want a takeover, we’re going to have to have an army. Who are our best allies?People who want change –usually that means less bureaucracy and better managementPeople who want a chance to be creativeImpatient people – they want results, actions, progressThose at the bottom of the food chain Poor communicators who have trouble advocating for themselvesPeople who care about usersRisk-takers – people who want to TRY things
  • How do you find them? Network, network, network. Make friends with everyone, ask them what they’re working on. Be nosy as hell. Here’s an example: I happened to overhear that one of our products was going in to a 6-month code rework. I approached the CTO and suggested that this would be a perfect time to do some usability testing so we could think about making some design changes at the same time. I gave him a budget and a description of how I would approach it. He agreed and I ended up doing about a dozen user interviews, wrote a usability report that resulted in more work doing task analysis and design.You can’t chase the work you want, if you don’t know it exists. Keep your ears to the ground. Sit in on meetings you’re not invited to. Attend the brown bags outside your department.
  • I’m in this cube farm where it’s easy to get isolated and not talk to anyone all day. When I first got to the company, I noticed this funny post-it on the hot water machine in the kitchen. So I took a picture and posted it outside my cube with this #uxfail tag on it. Whenever people walked by, they’d see the picture and stop, then laugh when they realized what it was.Great conversation starter.We do have to communicate the value of UX and evangelize, but we don’t want to do it at the point when we’re asking for something. Do it all the rest of the time, with a light touch, so people don’t even notice you’re doing it. I had another post-it outside my cube that said, “ask me what I’m working on.” Half the time people would. So I’d get a chance to talk about UX, run some sketches or wireframes by people. To this day…
  • Let other people into your process so they can experience the satisfaction that comes being creative and solving problems.Getting feedback on wireframes from one of our consultants, and he said, “you have the best job in the company.” I totally agreed with him. He was envious because I get to solve design problems all day. So yeah, share the wealth. Why should we have all the fun?
  • Another way to think about having a light touch is – lower your sights. Start small. Instead of proposing a giant redesign, do a heuristic review and find the cheap, low-hanging fruit. Don’t always try to do your whole process, look for quick wins that make an impact.If you propose something small, you’re making it easier for managers (or clients) to say yesQuick wins allow you to demonstrate value that much fasterYou’re also telling people, I’m flexible and easy to work withOnce people see the value, they’ll start coming to you.
  • You want to win hearts and minds in your company? Find ways to improve the user experience at the workplace. Dysfunction = design opportunities. I’m sure all of us can think of a few dysfunctional experiences at our workplace that could use a little design love. What about those terrible meetings? Maybe there’s no documentation for your timekeeping application, or it’s impossible to find anyone in your cube farm, or people are always blaming each other for not cleaning up in the kitchen.How many of us feel like we don’t get enough access to users? For these kinds of problems -- users are all around you. They are sitting in the next cube.
  • We need to make the company our project. The way I see it, if we want a seat at the table, we can’t be like everyone else in the company – the people who complain that the process is broken, the managers don’t know what they’re doing, people on the team aren’t pulling their weight. We can’t complain because we have the tools to fix it. More importantly, the company needs you and me to be the person who can rise above it all and tackle some of these problems. Because really, who else is going to do it?
  • Christian Crumlish and Gabi Moore gave a fascinating talk at last year’s IA Summit about a project they did at AOL called “Broken Experiences.” It was a website and browser widget that AOL staff could use to report problems with AOL web properties – kind of an internal crowdsourcing of quality assurance. People could report typos, broken links, poor usability, style guide problems, anything they thought was wrong. But here’s the fascinating thing: It didn’t take long before folks started reporting other broken experiences – at the company, not just on the web. Doors with confusing signs, running out of milk for coffee, location of nap rooms. The UX team took these just as seriously as everything else, and tried to fix them all.How’s that for an incredible proof of the value of UX? And winning hearts and minds? If we can fix the everyday experiences people have at the workplace – or even be seen as having made the attempt – that changes how we are perceived and valued.
  • This is where I started: Meetings. Meetings are a great opportunity to improve the user experience because 1. Everyone hates meetings, and 2. There’s actually plenty of information out there about how to run good meetings, it’s just that nobody can be bothered to follow it. Let’s take your typical planning meeting – there are always too many people, the agenda is something like: “let’s get in a room and figure out this out,” and there’s never any structure to it. What this meeting needs is a facilitator. (POINT) Volunteer to facilitate meetings. This is win-win all around.Relieve the meeting organizer of an onerous duty. Ensuring the meeting is more successful and satisfying for all participants. Get to use your UX techniques, like K-J method, gamestorming, whatever you’ve got. You’re standing at the head of the room looking important. You’re in the room when all the important decisions are getting made.
  • You want to be the one-eyed woman in the land of the blind? Learn how to run effective meetings. You’ll be like a god among ants.There’s nothing people appreciate more than a well-run, productive meeting that ends early – where everyone knows exactly what they need to do, and when they need to do it by. I’ve made meeting facilitation a service that UX provides to anybody who wants it at my company, just like usability testing, IA, wireframes, or design. It’s working. I’ve been asked to facilitate meetings for projects that I’m not even involved in. Product managers want me to train up my team so they can all do meeting facilitation.
  • Everybody I talk to about this subject agrees that we have get out of our chairs, step away from the wireframes, and find other opportunities to do design in the company. Phillip Hunter had this example: Your HR department sends out a mass email saying, we’re investigating a new a process for insurance enrollment and we need volunteers. “Designers should jump at this” he says. Once you’re on the committee or the working group, then you’ve got an opportunity to facilitate, to use UX techniques to brainstorm, sketch, test – whatever.Luke Wroblewski says we should be looking for opportunities to apply our pattern recognition skills to business data: analytics, biz metrics, consumer insights. Help executives visualize data and communicate the story that it tells.There’s no shortage of design opportunities -- if we just broaden our definition.
  • In business jargon, this is what you’d call a “stretch goal.”
  • Isn’t that what we’re talking about? If we want people to understand the value of UX, then we’re asking them to change their values. If we’re pushing to do good UX practice, then we’re telling the company it needs to change its behaviors. Values and behaviors are fundamental aspects of culture.We already talked about changing the meeting culture. That’s a good first step.
  • We can’t be everywhere all the time. And if we’re successful, we’re going to be so overrun with work, we’ll never be able to do it all. We have to teach others how to facilitate meetings, how to do K-J method for their own projects, how to run a usability test. We need to teach people to fish. We need to disseminate our knowledge and techniques and values and replicate them across the company.
  • Especially in a big, slow-moving company, you’ve got to take the long view. Understand that a lot of the time, you’ll be planting seeds that only bear fruit months or years down the road. One of my most satisfying experiences this past year was – I worked with a product manager who was allergic to post-it notes. He had learned other ways of getting requirements out and was really uncomfortable with what looked like a really unstructured ad hoc method. But I kept using them every time we had to brainstorm something, one day he came to me after one of those “get in a room and talk it out” planning meetings and he said: “We should have used post-it notes.” What a huge win! My definition of success is when I don’t have to advertise – people come to me. And when they internalize UX thinking to the point where it seems like their idea.I have another idea for changing the company culture… which you’re going to hate…
  • We spend so much energy trying to find ways to communicate the value of design to managers and getting managers to understand us. Wouldn’t that be a whole lot easier if we WERE the managers? This isn’t totally crazy. At Yahoo and Microsoft, some UXers have become product managers. Wouldn’t it be great to have a product manager who came out of UX? Stop wishing and start being that person.
  • My job won’t be any fun – I’ll be in meetings all dayEXCEPT – we already fixed the meetings so they don’t suck.
  • EXCEPT – we already know that there’s TONS of user experiences to fix at the company level. You might not be doing wireframes any more, but really do you want to be doing that your whole life anyway? Really, anyone can do wireframes.
  • People management sucks because it’s HARD and a lot of people are bad at it. This is a place where UX could make a huge difference because people management means listening and having empathy, it means bringing folks along and giving them the tools they need to be successful and fulfilled at work. People management NEEDS enlightened and caring leaders.Organizations are made up of people. If we don’t concern ourselves with how to make those people effective, we’re ignoring a fundamental problem of business.
  • Goes on to say: “We don’t have enough of US in positions of executive authority. We need more vice presidents.”But of course, we’re not going to get handed a VP position because we’re really great at UX. We need to prove that we’re concerned with things outside our domain, too.That means:Asking ourselves, what does the organization need me to do?Taking responsibility for the business as a wholeActing with confidence, and owning mistakesI believe it means tackling the tough problems that no one else wants to deal with
  • A lot of people I know are they’re always shopping around for a shinier opportunity, always looking for a better gig. That’s one strategy.Or… you could invest the time and energy to make the place you are NOW the place you’d like to work. You could start a UX takeover from within. That’s my strategy. Who’s with me?
  • UX-Takeover-UXcampDC

    1. 1. I want a seat at the table. I want to be taken seriously.I want to prove that UX can solve all kinds of problems. I want UX to be at the center of the organization. I want a UX takeover!
    2. 2. So what‟s the problem?
    3. 3. Our strategy
    4. 4. Get respectExternalvalidationmodel Get design opportunities Prove value
    5. 5. Prove it.
    6. 6. Change the power dynamic.
    7. 7. Create opportunitiesInternalvalidation Demonstrate valuemodel Earn respect More opportunities, greater influence
    8. 8. 3-prongedplan of attack
    9. 9. 1st prong:Don‟t wait for permission
    10. 10. Luke Wroblewski (smart guy):“People aren‟t interested in whatwe do. They‟re interested in theresults we deliver.”
    11. 11. Actions speak.
    12. 12. Stay outside the org chart
    13. 13. 2nd prong:Build a power base
    14. 14. Network, network, network
    15. 15. #UXfail
    16. 16. Jeff Gothelf (“LeanUX”) suggests:Post your work in a public placeso people can see and talk aboutit. Send out a newsletter.Demystify the design process.
    17. 17. Start small
    18. 18. Dysfunction= designopportunities
    19. 19. Make the company your project
    20. 20. Meetings
    21. 21. This cheapebook canmake you agod“Read This Before Our NextMeeting,” by Al Pittampalli
    22. 22. Phillip Hunter (Microsoft):“Too many of us have the attitude,„call me when you need design.‟We need to show up and say, „I‟mwilling to do whatever.‟”
    23. 23. 3rd prong:Change the culture
    24. 24. Christian Crumlish (AOL):“You can‟t introduce UX practiceswithout changing the companyculture.”
    25. 25. Teach others how to fish
    26. 26. Take the long view
    27. 27. Become a manager
    28. 28. Management is no fun—I‟ll be stuck in meetings all day
    29. 29. I won‟t get to do UX anymore
    30. 30. Managing people sucks
    31. 31. Don Norman (NN/g):“Of course it‟s daunting. It wouldn‟tbe any fun if it wasn‟t a challenge.If something were easy, it wouldn‟tbe needed.”
    32. 32. Who‟s with me?
    33. 33. Discussion?