Informing or Influencing?

Recently, a point of view was brought to my attention that the vast majority of the contributions of user experience generally inform the product development process but don’t necessarily influence it. The differentiation was stark – informing the UX meant that the product was being shaped by others while we (UX Design) helped mold it into a more refined version of that original shape (i.e., vision). The conception, vision and ultimate rasion d’être for the product was being determined by others.

Why, then, were we not influencing the origins and motivations of that product vision?

To influence the product vision the UX team has to take a position of leadership, examine the current product vision and strategy, analyze existing usage patterns and customer pain points and then determine how an improved product experience could address the needs that arise from that analysis. When that effort is complete the team has a direction to push product strategy, take the lead and drive towards greater customer satisfaction. The serendipitous by-product of this is that this UX-led effort is now explicitly measurable. The ROI of UX, something that has long been treated as a unicorn (perhaps a unicorn ridden by Patrick Swayze?), can actually be quantified. The up-front analysis work that was done to determine where to push the product strategy yielded valuable insight into how the current product was performing – clickthroughs, revenue, task completion, time on site, page views, whatever, can all now be used to measure the newly proposed (influenced?) product direction.

Many of you will say things like “Well, the UX team doesn’t have that kind of power where I work” and “I’m lucky if I can get a product in front of a user” and to those that do, I say this, start small. Pick one aspect of your product and study it, figure out what can push its performance and influence that piece. Showcase your succes with quantifiable ROI metrics ($ works best 🙂 and move on to bigger pieces. Initially, the victories will be small but as you gain momentum you’ll find that your UX efforts will bear fruit in bigger and more meaningful ways.

So which will it be for you? Continue informing or start pushing forward and influence the experiences you design?


3 thoughts on “Informing or Influencing?

  1. Great post, Jeff! I tell people that in order to be influential, you, first, need to be invited to the party. You get invited to the party by being multilingual. And by that I don't mean French, Italian and Swahili, but the languages of Business, Marketing and Engineering. In our field, many of us focus solely on speaking the language of users and experience — but we are powerless to make changes for the better of users and experience. People, naturally, want to listen to others who seem similar to themselves — so, in order to motivate your business, marketing and engineering folks, you have to walk in their shoes and talk their talk. Along these lines, it's essential to understand how the brain works and how people make decisions. Book reco: Influence by Robert Cialdini.

    1. JC! (nice to see you on my blog 🙂

      You multi-lingual comment is dead-on. It extends further into another debate “raging” over on Quora right now regarding whether UX designers should be able to code their own designs. The general consensus seems to be that at the very least UX designers should have intimate understanding of the capabilities and constraints of the medium within which they're working. This understanding leads to new languages, like you mention, and ultimately a better, more collaborative and more productive outcome.

      Granted this is only one of the many people we have to interact with (as you also mention) hence the use of metrics to convince the numbers-dependent marketing and business folks of the value of our work.

      Finally, and most amazingly, the book you recommended? I started reading that book THIS MORNING! Saw your comment shortly thereafter. Crazy. 🙂

      Hope to see you here more frequently.


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