Speaking to ‘the business’

On February 1st I spoke at the inaugural LightningUX event on the topic of how we, in the user experience community, speak to business. This is my attempt to try and convert my outline notes to a blog post.

User experience is a rapidly maturing industry, and now, more that ever, we user experience professionals are in high demand. Companies want a UX function, and say that they want to be more user focussed. However, much of the time companies have difficulty in fully realising the potential that our discipline can bring to the table. I think that we UXers also often struggle to get the level of authority that we feel we need, in order to successfully our user experience vision.

The question is: how do we change this? How do we ingrain ourselves more into ‘the business’ and get that magic seat at the table?

Use language that the business understands

99% of the time the people that sign off on budgets, be it project or departmental, are business focussed. They are finance people who have little to no knowledge of what we do, how we do, or why we do it. Indeed, it’s been my experience, that in corporate environments it’s not unusual for UX to be met with a degree of cynicism. That we magic up wireframes! That we conjure up designs!

Case and point is the resistance that we often meet when trying to get budget for research. A request often meet with replies like “Ask us, we know everything about  our customers.”, or even worse, “You’re the UX person – you should know all the answers, why do you need to do research?”.

To overcome this we need to show that we are on the same level as the business. That we understand their needs and goals. This is, I believe, how we will begin to overcome the impression that we sit in an ivory tower, expounding our user centric mantra!

This starts with the words we use.

The words we use are important

By framing what we do in business centric rhetoric we can start the process of convincing the business that we understand them. Now, I’m not saying that we don’t understand them, I’m just saying that we need to do more to convince the business of this. So that we move away from being seen as purists, talking in ‘fluffy’ terms about users’ needs and goals, and that we come across as the shrewd, business-focussed UX professionals that we are.

So, let’s start by talking more about customers (instead of users). And when we want to talk about improving the user journey , let’s talk about conversion optimisation. Let’s talk about persuasive selling, effective merchandising and presenting cross-sell messages as something useful to users (rather than the brute force approach many eCommerce sites take).

The words we use will reassure people that what we want to do has their best interests at heart. When we explain that we want to marry the needs of the user with the needs of the business, using business rhetoric, we subconsciously put the emphasis on the business side. It’s persuasion design and reassurance in practice! I’m not for one second saying that we shouldn’t use our own UX language, just that we need to frame it in a more business focussed vernacular.

The perfect mix for success

We, in UX, sometimes feel dirty when we start becoming more business focussed and use business-babble! That somehow we’re prostituting ourselves, a sullying the purity of our discipline. We’re not! When we talk about  a fantastic user experience, and putting the customer at the heart of what we do, framed in the language that the business speaks, we gain a new credibility. People stop and listen and begin to realise the opportunities that we can unlock for their business.

We’re also an incredibly passionate bunch of people, so committed to what we do. This passion, with our credibility, combined with our business focussed approach will take us to the next step of maturity as a discipline.

And as we develop our UX vernacular, framing it in a business speak, UX and Customer Experience will become a more integral part of every serious business.

So, along with credibility, there is another huge advantage to be got from crossing these two streams. We all look at the budgets that marketing departments have with envy, and lust for even a small part of that.As we become a little more business focussed, I believe that we will become as influential, if not more, as marketing is today, and will be given the budgets that we deserve. I could be provocative and say that as another plus,  we can  actually deliver tangible and measurable outputs! But I won’t!

On the back of this, one of the team here has started compiling a list of UX words and how we could business-ify them. Once we’ve got a critical mass I’ll post them here. Can you think any of the top of your head?

Thanks to Andy Birchwood for the use of the image of me speaking.

About the Author

An experienced, commercial and creative user experience professional with a proven record in UX leadership, strategy, people management, branding and innovation. Responsible for the design and delivery of several high profile, big brand web sites and enterprise software applications. All opinions here are my own.

3 Responses

  1. Alex Horstmann Feb 03, 2011 -

    Jan Surtek, from Flow Interactive, posted a nice summary of the lighteningUX night (thanks for your kind words Jan!) here:

    http://www.thinkflowinteractive.com/2011/02/03/thoughts-on-ux-at-the-speed-of-lightning/

  2. Dan Feb 04, 2011 -

    It was great speech Alex. I really enjoyed it. Looking forward to the next one

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