Getting Buy-In for UX

Posted 3 years ago by Debi Terry No Comments

A common thread that ran through this year’s Big Design Conference was the need for collaboration between team members on design projects. One aspect that was particularly interesting was that of “buy-in”. The term, as it was used by multiple speakers at the conference, means the agreement to support a decision.

It is not uncommon to see great designs end up on the cutting room floor. The user experience designer did all the necessary research, made well-thought-out decisions and implemented them meticulously in their designs… only to have them #defenestrated. So what went wrong? Simple. The design did not garner the support it needed to keep it alive. Not only does an idea need buy-in from stakeholders, the team that will be bringing it to life needs to believe in it too.

In the opening address, Jeff Gothelf, writer of Lean UX, expressed that at the core of a culture of innovation is the team. Essentially, a designer will only be as creative as their team allows. Awesome ideas do not serve anyone if they do not see the light of day via implementation. A designer might have to break job title barriers and get the rest of the team involved in the design process if they hope to deliver a great product. So there is work to be done, hard work yes, but with rewarding results.

A user experience designer gets to be privy to the coolest part of the development process. They get the behind the curtain view of how and why certain design decisions were made. Rather than keeping this knowledge to themselves, designers can benefit from sharing it with the rest of their team. This will help foster a sense of ownership in the final outcome by all team members. In his session “UX As A Service”, Brandon Ward demonstrated that teams are consistently less supportive of projects they are less involved in.

Gothelf pointed out that when you do not share your process with your team, you risk making them feel like mere service providers. The team begins to operate as an assembly line, having only knowledge of their part and not a view of the whole. This quote by Ward really brought it home, “It’s called a ‘team’ and not a ‘bunch of automatons’ for a reason”.

The team should move as a unit; if you succeed you succeed as a team and if you fail, you fail as a team. Sharing the design process with the team gives them more ownership of the whole and helps everyone be a part of the creation.

To that point, this tweet by Tom Howlett (Diary of a Scrummaster) was shared: Present a good team with problems & they’ll thrive on finding solutions. Ask them to implement your solution & they’ll only find problems.

As much as a we would like to think of some of the greatest artists like Picasso and Leonardo da Vinci as solo acts, they too thrived on collaboration with others. In his acclaimed talk, Produce like Piccasso, Brian Sullivan pointed out that Picasso’s partnerships were critical to his productivity. His Cubist collaborator, George Braque, had this to say about their partnership: “The things that Picasso and I said to one another during those years will never be said again, and even if they were, no one would understand them anymore. It was like being roped together on a mountain.”

So how do you accomplish this daunting task (of being roped together on a mountain)? To this end, transparency is your friend. Inviting all members of the team into the design process will give them all an insider view. Building in activities that give the whole team an in on the design process will give them a vested interest in it. Design studio sessions that include team members who are not typically listed under design roles is an innovative way to get a fresh perspective on the project. To get feedback from all team members, the session Introverts and Extroverts by Mike Townson described how we can get feedback from less vocal members of the team. Introverts have valuable feedback that is sometimes overlooked when there are more outspoken members of a team. This might involve speaking with individual members of the team one-on-one.

Speaker Marcelo Somers gave some very practical advice on Solving the Designer-Developer Handoff. Developers are more likely to support designs that they are able to develop efficiently. He advised designers to stop thinking in custom layouts and start thinking in patterns. Pattern libraries and stylesheets should be a collaborative effort between people with various roles in the team. They should allow custom designs that won’t feel constraining for designers, yet have reusable components, easily implemented styles and use the correct framework, technologies and dependencies that developers will love.

UX Designers can set the tone for these collaborative efforts. Keeping conversations light and inviting will make them more useful. In her presentation “Why Agile is So Hard”, Traci Lepore pointed out how negative energy hurts the team. She advised embracing failure as a means to achieving success. Lepore likened a team to a dance ensemble; while everybody has a part to play, they have to work in unison to create a cohesive product.

So the key factor that will help designers in getting buy-in, except of course awesome designs, is transparency. By sharing their vision early and frequently, they create a dedicated team environment and this in turn leads to well-executed designs.

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