How to get my company to understand the value of investing in UI/UX

15 Jun 2011 - 4:22pm
5 years ago
17 replies
3107 reads

I am in charge of a defining & launching a potential game-changing web-based service.  My company has a mixed history of launching products without putting the user at the center of the definition and design process.  The president has told me not to worry about validation (functional or UI) - "we'll validate after we ship, then tweak the UI based on the feedback".  

My question to this group - how do I get the company to understand the importance of investing in UI/UX research?  Is there a 12 step program to wean the management out of it's methods and onto a user-centric process?



16 Jun 2011 - 4:57am

17 Jun 2011 - 12:35pm
Susan Oslin

Great article!  Really needed to hear that.  Why swim uptream when they are so many opportunities to go with the UX flow?

16 Jun 2011 - 10:53am
Sean Pook

Is tweaking the UI and quick and cheap process? If not, estimate some possible 'tweaks' that might come up from real-time testing and outline the potential cost and time delays. It's a difficult process though.

Yesterday I read a blog of an experienced UX strategist saying that in 10 years he'd never convinced an executive to the benefits of User Exerience research and design. He says they need to want it first before the benefits can be sold. I imagine some would disagree though.

Edit - ah yes, that blog would be the one listed in the post above Laughing

16 Jun 2011 - 11:05am

Leverage on existing knowledge specific to the service or similar service, collate information from marketing, sales, friends, family, butler, butcher etc., go by informed assumptions, and see how that information can be converted into UX specifics and deliverable. Pitch for full length UX process once the results are obvious. Avoid generalizing; try being domain and business specific. Maybe he'll be more interested at that time.

16 Jun 2011 - 3:21pm

Thanks for the thoughts and feedback. 


17 Jun 2011 - 1:43am
Graham Sear

Hi MarcG,

I've been in a similar position. I started at a new company, wanted to go through a recognised UCD process to produce the best, most effective work. I'll admit my approach wasn't perfect I went in straight away for heavy research methods and suggested a card sort instead of a more light-touch user informed design decisions e.g. Responding to analytics, A/B testing.

My only advice would be try something small that requires little involvement from others and can be done cheaply but with the aim of building up to different types of research. Demonstrating how even small informed decisions can have a big impact will hopefully get you some way to having more buy in. Also, I really recommend Undercover User Experience by Cenydd Bowles and James Box, that goes through this in much more detail.

Hope this helps, Graham

23 Jun 2011 - 12:50am
Hi Marc,

Just a small suggestion!

I think, if you try one of the past project done by the Company and analyze it from UCD perspective. Come up with the differential report on what the existing shape of the product, and what it could be. In the process, you can prepare the small prototype of the product with two versions - one with the existing shape and one with the suggestive shape to demonstrate the difference at user end.

Moreover, don't expect management to comeup with UI/UX perspective on the first hand, but try to inform the management about its necassity and let them feel the need of UCD for their Products. You need to keep them informed, analayse the past response of their products and try to point out the drawbacks,

Thanks - SAI.RAO
24 Jun 2011 - 10:42am
Jared M. Spool

Hi Marc,

As I wrote in my article,, you can't convince someone to invest in this stuff. They have to convince themselves. You can help set them on a path for self-convincing, but it's unlikely a powerpoint deck or 15-page word document will get them there.

The best results I've seen to get execs self-convince is to get them exposed to the effects of the current design. This comes down to how the organization makes design decisions. []

If you're in an organization that currently does what I call 'unintentional design' -- where the designs they create are just bi-products of the technical or business objectives -- then having the execs use their own product (aka, the "eat your own dog food" approach) will have a huge effect. Sit by them as they use the product and ask, "imagine what it must be like for our paying customers."

If you're in an organization that currently does what I call "self design" -- where they primarily design from their own use of it, making it perfect for themselves -- then you need to do two things. First, make sure they are using it themselves every day. If they just pop into the design every so often, that won't work. Second, get them exposure to watching other users interact with the design.

(If you're in an organization that uses one of the other three styles of decision making, then you're already doing user research, so your execs are already convinced.)

If you're seeking executive buy-in to UX, that probably means that the current design's UX isn't very good. Poor UXs result in frustration. The closer you can get the execs to the source of the frustration, the sooner they'll self-convince about the need for investing in better UX.

Here's another article about increasing exposure hours and it's power to getting to better designs: []

Hope that helps.


Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: p: +1 978 327 5561  Blog:  Twitter: @jmspool

24 Jun 2011 - 12:05pm

Great responses! Thanks all!


25 Jun 2011 - 11:23pm
Dave Malouf

Jared, I find it hard to believe that your research hasn't shown any value to evangelizing UX within an organization. Having done this level of evangelizism myself at 2 organizations with quite different cultures (tech centric and biz centric) it just doesn't jive with my own experience (though a very small sampling). Is there a way where you are defining the situation so tightly that of course you are right? 

In both my situations, the best means of evangelizing ux need was through demonstration, self-initiative and a lot of extra over-time hours. Further, it required building relationshiops first amongst peers and middle managers, who then used their further skills to work upward. Like any evangelist, engage the converted who then convert others. 

Everyone can be a convert (there wouldn't be christianity w/o this fact) the question is how to motivate. For me, the success has come through small moves that create case studies that speak directly to the people I most want to influence who are strategically selected because of the value of their opinion.

So yes, *I* seldom convince my executive of anything directly, but I harness the evangelical power of a cohorts worth of Templar Knights to do my dirty work fo rme.

But to your point, there is no single argument that I could tell anyone. It is more about developing a strategy and practicing the tactics over years. (2yrs the 1st time and 3yrs the 2nd time). This is why I'm an innie by nature. I actually feel I make a difference over the long haul.

-- dave

26 Jun 2011 - 11:30am
Jared M. Spool


I was working off this definition of 'convince': To cause someone to firmly believe something.

My point was I have never convinced an executive who wasn't already believing in UX to believe that shifting their objectives to be UX-centric would work. Nor have I ever seen it done.

What you're describing is not convincing. It's doing. You choose your values and work to them. You stick with it. Eventually, people see the results from what you've done, if they choose to see them. You didn't shift their beliefs. They did that all on their own.

Where this thread started was with Marc asking for a 12-step program to convincing his president who seems set in his own beliefs. I don't think Marc can CONVINCE the president to abandon his own beliefs for Marc's. I don't think there's any presentation or 12-step program that will shift that thinking.

I will always remember the advice I got from an old friend when I start in the consulting business. He took me aside and said, "Remember the first law of consulting: You can't stop people from sticking beans up their nose."

Marc's problem sounds like classic beans-and-noses thinking. In this situation, the best any of us can do is to let them stick the bean up their nose and then ask, "So, how is that working for you?"

Marc can ask the president to elaborate on what success looks like when they ship-then-validate. Then, after they've adopted that approach, 2 things will happen: Either Marc is wrong about things and it'll work out great, or Marc is right and they'll have issues. In the latter case, Marc can suggest that there are ways to avoid this issues in the future.

On the other hand, there may be folks within Marc's organization who can see the issues before they happen. Those people won't need convincing, but instead could use the extra set of tools that something like UX processes provide. Marc can find those folks, share the potential alternative approaches, and use them as a champion to create a better experience for all involved.

I stand by my statement that we can't convince anyone of this stuff who isn't already convinced. People's beliefs are changed from internal challenges to their values, not from external arguments.


p.s. Are you suggesting with your Christianity reference that we should start some sort of UX Crusade to convert the heathens? :) #GettingCloseToGodwinsLaw

26 Jun 2011 - 2:05pm

Have you seen this presentation that elaborates on UX practitioners being a cult?


27 Jun 2011 - 4:06am
Joe Ortenzi

counter with:

On 27/06/2011, at 16:50 , martinsz wrote:

Have you seen this presentation that elaborates on UX practitioners being a cult? [1]


27 Jun 2011 - 7:06am
Dave Edelhart

There are other less popular symptoms of cult hood

  1. Insulating yourself from ideas contrary to your own to the point of demonizing people with opposing views and protecting yourself and your followers from "unsafe ideas." Scientology expresses this as "criminal ideas" but this is present in most fanatic belief systems. IMHO without this isolationist streak maintaining a cult is basically impossible.

  2. Reframing ideas already present in other systems in general academic / specialized practices in order to claim them as a unique "discovery" ( and of course without accreditation). Most cults develop an elaborate vocabulary that makes even the most mundane ideas special and fascinating to superficial and suggestible (and I'll educated) advocates. Sure, professions also generate jargon, but there is a ritualization of language in cults that transcends simple linguistic shorthand. Finding people stupid enough to believe that special words make themselves special is the key to building masses of idiot fanatics.

  3. Holding the group, leader and doctrine in an overarching regard, based on a supernatural and generally untestable metaphysical precept; this may be done explicitly to justify extreme measures, but even where this is not literal doctrine, the implicit narcissism promotes or pre justifies terrifying / antisocial / illegal behavior implicitly. White supremacy falls under this mantle, as do divine right based government and to some extent the mythologizing of U. s. Manifest destiny.

  4. A violent rejection of reason and non confrontational discussion of the fundamental beliefs of the cult, and the academic logical analysis. Given how deeply cults rely on sophism, jargon, and other "empty calories", cult members become impossible to talk with and fall back on slogans when a non initiate talks about their belief system. As most cult members gleefully boil away their cognitive faculties with jargon, nondeterministic thinking frightens them as it places their sacred beliefs within the realm of ordinary thought and therefore capable of being refuted.

Emphasizing superficial organizational characteristics of cults doesn't do justice to the aspects of cultish doctrine that lead to dangerous isolationist and narcissistic behavior. That's the road mainland china has taken to justify minority religious crackdowns.

To understand cults you need to the behavioral patterns and social trends that cultish -- or really, when it comes to it, any fanatic group uses to divorce it's members from reality.

When it comes to it, cults exploit the desire for excellence and achievement through cheap doctrine and groupthink.

I realize that this was in the context of a joke, but when you state that anything with principles and a leader is a "cult" you give yourself license to demonize any practice that is in any way organized; and this is actually a very cultish and reductionist way of looking at social phenomena.

On Jun 26, 2011, at 11:34 PM, martinsz wrote:

> Have you seen this presentation that elaborates on UX practitioners being a cult? > [1] > > Martín. > > (

27 Jun 2011 - 10:28am
Dave Malouf

I think it was in Guy Kawasaki's blog where he discussed how he went to Xtian camp to learn to be an evangelist. So yes!

But again, I think your definition of convince is tighter than my own. What I'm thinking is something akin to before and after.
My efforts may not have been a rhetorical argument, but the outcome had the desired effect. It was strategic in nature and wasn't only about "doing", but about gaining allies in strategic positions and manipulating the chess board towards the designered outcome whereby those who were in control with an opinion I disagreed with now have an opinion and for that matter an entirely new POV that I do agree with. 

But yes, I agree. He was looking for a slide-deck to help him. So in this regard I agree with you. You can't walk into a room with a slide deck and change somebody's mind just like that. They either had a predeleciton for it already or not. Of course, how much predelection for or against we will not know, so your argument is one of absolute. I have yet to see a CEO (or any C) who is not interested at some level in their customers (except maybe the tobacco industry, but even then there is empathy) so it is not about conversion so much as awakening.

I still advise people to read up on Guy Kawasaki's blog and his books on evangelism. They are top notch.

24 Jun 2011 - 2:45pm
Larry Tesler


Plan A. You could present a case a study of a product from your own company (or from a company that the president respects) that lost market share because of insufficient user research. The case study could involve a product that was so usability challenged that widely-read reviewers fatally panned it before the company had a chance to remedy the issues. But you would have to present strong evidence that a bit of user research would have led to a much more positive outcome. Hard to do. So let's move on to...

Plan B: Game-changing products can be so unexpected by the market that some research methods yield misleading conclusions. The safest bet for a game-changer is field research, studying people before, during and after they use the complete product for a long enough time to "get it". What the president has told you to do is not exactly that, but it is a useful subset. If you can persuade him to call the product a "beta", as companies like Google and Yahoo! generally do, and provide an obvious way for beta users to provide feedback that you actually read, and if you act upon important issues so discovered, then most writers of product reviews will give you a pass on UI problems until the "beta" label is removed--as long as you have addressed the specific issues that those widely-read reviewers identified. 

Larry Tesler
The president has told me not to worry about validation (functional or UI) - "we'll validate after we ship, then tweak the UI based on the feedback".


25 Jun 2011 - 12:05am

Hello, this is my first message to this list. I live in Buenos Aires (and I belong to the local chapter of IxDA) and I've been working as an interaction designer (among other things, like most of us) for several years now.
I want to add this article to this conversation:
It discusses different approaches to demonstrating the value of usability in an intranet, so it's very specific.
And in the end it says:

Focus on demonstrating:
  • improvements to end-to-end tasks
  • direct solutions to business problems and business needs

I hope it helps.

2011/6/24 Larry Tesler <>

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