Love in an elevator – UX as business strategy

This weekend I’m in Sydney attending and speaking at Oz-IA 2007. Today was all signal and no noise! Every speaker had great subject matter. Naturally, not every talk totally rocked my world, but it was all good stuff. My favorite of the day was SlideShare‘s Rashmi Sinha speaking about their non-approach to UX in launching and during the first year of SlideShare’s existence.

My session went well, with some great feedback. I also managed to make a bunch of new “friends” who were keen to see my iPhone ;).

My speaking notes are below.

Slide 1 – Today I’m actually not going to talk to you about IA or UX as such. I’m going to talk to you about frustration, about people, about business, about communities. I’m going to talk about how you can talk to the businesses you work with about UX, especially when they apparently don’t “get” what you’re on about when you speak with them about your work.

Slide 2 – So, why “Love in an Elevator”? Well, I’m not talking about these guys, who certainly do deliver a user experience, but not the sort we’re talking about today. What I AM talking about is your elevator pitch for the strategy you’re bringing to your client or organisation from a UX point of view.

Slide 3 – So, who am I?
A little about me.
I’ve worked in the web industry for around 12 years.
I’ve done web apps development, business analysis, project management and even network security in the past.
These days I run acidlabs. It’s an independent consultancy that works with people and organisations on building collaborative communities around information and knowledge sharing, web strategy and social computing evangelism – particularly in a business context. And, relevant to today, I also does user experience and information architecture work.

Slide 4 – Now, before we get into this, a word of warning.

Slide 5 – I’ve got, what, 45 minutes to talk to you today? And there needs to be gossip time at the end. So by NO MEANS is my intention today to give you any ACTUAL ANSWERS as to what your UX strategic approach should be.

Slide 6 – That said, what I DO WANT TO DO is get you thinking. How many of you here are responsible for communicating UX strategy to clients – whether those clients are the organisation that employs you, or you’re contracting or consulting? I know there are a few of you here – Shane, Matthew, Andrew, Stephen, Donna. Me, when anyone will listen.
How many of you are NOT doing that work? Why not? Do you not care enough about what you do? “It’s not my job” is NOT AN EXCUSE OR A REASON for this.
I actually think it’s CRITICAL that no matter where you sit in the UX process or pecking order, you should be taking a BIGGER PICTURE look at your work and asking yourself what it’s really about. I don’t think you can really do the best job possible unless this is your mindset.

Slide 7 – So, what prompted me to pick this subject to speak on? Well, I was in a meeting not all that long ago – we were talking with a PM, a couple of platform techs, some BAs and I heard this…

Slide 8 – Take that in for a moment…

Slide 9 – Language warning here, but “What the fuck?”

Slide 10 – Now, here’s the thing. This isn’t a lightweight project. It’s a major effort that actually has a very significant budget and potentially affects the lives (in REAL, life and death terms) of people. Yet, the non-UX people on this project have no idea what we do nor how it fits into the work that they do.

Slide 11 – So, NO, UX is ABSOLUTELY NOT “here with UAT”. But that issue, or similar issues that I’ll discuss shortly, is something that in very many places forces UX into a place where it’s just unable to deliver real value.

Slide 12 – Of course, there is an alternative. UX can be done well, and it can be done strategically.

Slide 13 – In my ideal world, and I don’t think I’m talking pie in the sky, UX touches business (in a good way) across the board. It comes on to the project RIGHT AT THE START rather than once a bunch of decisions – platform, structure, business goals, user goals and the like – have been made.
So, show of hands, Who ALWAYS gets to work on projects where this is the case? Sometimes? Rarely?
Who WANTS to be able to work on projects like this? If you do, I suggest it’s a part of your job to drive this message. To get in your client’s and colleague’s ears. And to send a CLEAR MESSAGE about the stratgic value of UX.

Slide 14 – I’d hazard a guess that everyone in this room has seen this. Anyone NOT seen this? On the assumption you’ve all seen it, I won’t explain it.

Slide 15 – However, even if you intimately understand Jesse’s Elements, even if you are incredibly good at what you do, once you step out into the business for whom you are doing UX work, UNDERSTANDING is a major hurdle. Business likes to see itself as pragmatic, logical, sensible and driven by delivery timelines.
On the other hand, UX people are…

Slide 16 – We’re creative types. We don’t DO waterfall. We go round and round and like producing iterative outputs based on lots of talking to people and watching people.
Some businesses struggle with this as an approach – they want your “report” now. Today. They don’t like the fact that you might spend weeks on a large project just interacting with people and not producing a tangible, paper output.

Slide 17 – Us designer, people-centric, arty types (not that I claim to be a designer) don’t necessarily fit the corporate mould. T-shirts from Threadless and Thinkgeek, as awesome as they are don’t always suit the corporate image.
It’s sad but true, but failing to fit in to corporate life is not helpful in your mission to evangelise UX to everyone from the CEO down. You might just need to compromise and make some concessions to the company image. It’s an indication of emotional intelligence that you can “play the game” well enough to get your message across in spite of what you are really like.

Slide 18 – My background is as a web apps developer – Mr Coder Guy. I was the standards Nazi. The guy who forced the developers to use source code management and build tools. The guy with the eternally clenched sphincter. Naturally, I went mad. But people like that are very useful to the corporate world.
I was paid the most awesome compliment earlier this year by Susan Scrupski from the Office 2.0 Conference. She referred to me as a “right-brained, ultra-creative”. I think I’ve finally made the transition to where I want to be. But creativity, innovation, maverick thinking don’t always get a guernsey in corporate life.

Slide 19 – So, as UX people we face something of a challenge to get our message across from a perception standpoint. Unless we can play the corporate game, we have a barrier to getting the proverbial “seat at the table”.

Slide 20 – In my experience, understanding of UX amongst our peers can be an issue. Here are a few things I have heard this year.

Slide 21 – Riiiiiiight…
My friend Matthew Hodgson has written a couple (1, 2, 3) of excellent blog posts this year about the difference between IA and BA. Here’s here this weekend and speaking tomorrow. Have a chat to him or read his blog if you want some deep insight.

Slide 22 – Heard this before? This is a particular issue with some organisations I’m aware of. The way UX work is done, rather than being strategic, is report focussed and the entire UX team end up being thought of as an impediment to release rather than a facilitator of great experience.
My opinion is that this occurs when UX happens in the wrong place, or in isolated places during product development rather than being a thing that takes place THROUGHOUT product development.

Slide 23 – Here’s another thing that happens when UX work isn’t allowed to be holistic and involved across the entire lifecycle of the project.

Slide 24 – So, now that I’ve been bitching about everything that’s wrong with how we might be approaching UX, or how our clients and employers might be doing the same thing, let’s talk a little about strategy.

Slide 25 – A core part of your strategy needs to be getting the message to business in a way they understand. Drop the buzzwords. Drop the UX “science”. Talk in words that business knows. Short. Few syllables. Orange crayon on butcher’s paper.
No. Kidding.

Slide 26 – Like a number of people I know, I UNDERSTAND what I do, but I often struggle to communicate it to others. Especially if they are non-technical or buried in the minutiae of their business or know they need UX work done, but don’t understand why.
Oh, and Andrew, would you like to explain why there are photos of you on iStockphoto?

Slide 27 – So, I’ve had a number of conversations like this. Although I am getting better at it.

Slide 28 – Bit of a motherhood statement, this. And if you were watching, you’ll remember that I showed this slide earlier. But I believe it’s true. That said, it’s hard work. You’ll earn your dollars in doing it.

Slide 29 – Let’s look at user strategy first. We’re talking about the community of all users that will ever use the product you’re working on.

Slide 30 – What are those users expecting to get from this product? Where’s the value? What’s in it for them?

Slide 31 – Is your product or your message credible? Are you talking to your user community in a way that appeals to them. Or, have they shut down. Here’s where the concepts around community marketing, user involvement, bottom-up management and social design come into play.
You can make or break your product based on how you communicate your message and involve the community of possible end users.
There’s a lot of conversation going on these days in the web world, for example, around involving your community as a method for getting buy-in. It’s equally applicable in UX work.

Slide 32 – Here’s what happens when your message is NOT credible.

Slide 33 – Are you considering user needs? Really?

Slide 34 – Is the IA of your product actually based on those user needs?

Slide 35 – Or is the tail wagging the dog? How many bad web sites have you seen that are structured around an internal organisation structure than means NOTHING to end users?

Slide 36 – Have you adequately researched actual user needs and drawn SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Tangible – conclusions from them in setting your UX goals.

Slide 37 – On to business strategy. What does the business want and need from this product?

Slide 38 – So, you’re making something. Does the business know what it is supposed to do?

Slide 39 – And why.

Slide 40 – What problem space is this product actually being built to fill?

Slide 41 – Have all these needs been considered in defining product features?

Slide 42 – Here’s an example of brand. Anyone NOT know it? Anyone think these guys aren’t factoring their business goals (world dominance no doubt) into their branding work?

(BTW, here’s another awesome branding example).

Slide 43 – Design strategy. These guys too, are masters at their game. They consistently successfully mesh business drivers with their design strategy. Is there any doubt when you’re using their products that they’re from Apple?
Even with this product, you’re obviously using something made by Apple. And let me assure you as a satisfied owner that it’s far and away the best phone I’ve ever owned.
In the last week, I’ve handed it to my 9½ year old daughter and my 61 year old Mum. They BOTH had the entire interface figured out inside 10 minutes. That’s good design. That’s Apple.

Slide 44 – So what happens if you DON’T get your strategy right? Or your organisation or client doesn’t let it be right?

Slide 45 – Business needs to be pragmatic. That’s completely fair. If you don’t have strategic value in the universe of the business you work for, you could be out the door. Or like this guy, the window.

Slide 46 – UX costs money. If you haven’t convinced the people with their hands on the buckets of money that you have value, you risk extinction.

Slide 47 – I’m sure you’ve heard something like this before. If you can get your UX work involved early in the product development cycle, you have the opportunity to make a real difference in how easily and cheaply problems get solved. You get to earn brownie points that have an actual, measurable dollar value.

Slide 48 – On the subject of measurement, there are a bunch of activities you can do to measure UX value. Steve Baty this morning gave us a bunch of ideas – like Shane, I’d POTENTIALLY leave a site in the first seconds too. Probably if I fell asleep in my chair or had a stroke.

Slide 49 – Get involved early on and UX can be a powerful and helpful agent for change. You get the opportunity to make a real difference.

Slide 50 – What this all ends up being about is relationships. Between people. If you talk the right way to the right people at the right time, you set yourself up to be a VERY successful agent for change and an important advocate for users.

Slide 51 – So, as I said earlier, to have UX taken seriously your job is actually SIGNIFICANTLY about relationship and expectation management. It’s not enough just to be a designer, or an IA, or a coder. You need those core skills, but almost more importantly, you need the ability to deal with people.

Slide 52 – Community is critical. Be involved in your communities. Peers in your building, in your town, overseas. Get involved in your professional community and work community so that you’re not just the guy or girl in the corner who thumps out wireframes or does testing.

Slide 53 – What goes around comes around. If you deal with the people you interface with in a way that gets them to pay attention to you, your ability to have an affect on driving strategic adoption of UX can be much greater.

Slide 54 – I know this is how I want to work. How about you?

Slide 55 – You can reuse my work as long as you follow the license rules.
The slides will be available on SlideShare at the URL shown.

Slide 56 – Since people usually ask, here are the sources for my pictures.

Slide 57 – Oh, and this is me.
I’m happy to take questions. I’m happy to be called out. I’m happy to talk in the break. And if you want to invite me to your organisation to talk about this stuff, I’m more than happy to do that too.