I did my first conference talk last night. The link to the presentation is here: http://www.slideshare.net/markussmet/unleashing-uxs-untapped-potential
Below is a written transcript about the untapped potential of UX:
— TRANSCRIPT FROM UNLEASHING THE UNTAPPED POTENTIAL OF UX —
I want to talk to you today about UX’s Untapped Potential. Given that the theme of this evening’s event is Untapped Talent it seemed somehow appropriate.
So who am I? I’m Markus Smet, VP Products at Spreadshirt. We empower people to create clothes for their tribe. This can be anything from hip-hop, music, goats to sushi… and it’s big business as we’re going to hit €100 million in 2013.
In my last job I was Global Director of Experience Design at a gambling company, and before that I was Head of UX at Sky. But let’s step back beyond these grand sounding job titles and take you back to where it all began…
It’s 1994 and the first thing we’d notice is there’s no internet or email in my University and no one I know has a mobile phone. That meant there was also no User Experience, so I did the next best thing at the time – Marketing.
Marketing was customer focused and that resonated with me. And the first thing Marketers are taught is that market orientation, the idea that fundamentally building a company around customer leads to greater profitability. That idea took until the 1990s for the concept of customer as the core focus of the organisation to be fully embraced.
1954 until early 1990s. That’s about 40 years.
So, we can safely say that when it comes to customer orientated thinking, Marketing got there first and have had since 1954 to convince the rest of an organization they’re the right people to talk to when it comes to customer.
Yet for me, Marketing never seemed to get close enough to the customer. And then I met Jason Mesut in 2003 who introduced me to the marvels of UX and UCD I have never looked back since. Since then I’ve sold UX into c-suite execs, senior marketers and technology teams at Yell and Sky. I was an instant convert and have been pushing it ever since regardless of my job title. I am innately user, or I would say ‘customer’, focused.
UX built on what I loved about good Marketing; that you could give customers something that was better than what they had… you could give them a better customer experience.
Of course delivering a better customer experience is hard. But in UX I witnessed an incredibly sophisticated capability helping me manage the complexity of ‘future’. UX literally calibrated the ambition of a group of people from many departments describing the future experience and taking everyone involved step-by-step through the process. This dramatically reduced politics and increased team confidence to innovate.
That word innovation is so important. It’s a simple concept – the act of doing something knew. It’s also a magic word for Execs; they see innovation as the lifeblood of growth. According to a McKinsey Global Survey (2010) 84 percent of executives say innovation is extremely, or very important, to their companies’ growth strategy.
And having witnessed how UX led User Centred Design is deeply capable of calibrating ambition across a team without squashing ambition, encouraging people to deliver more, surely UX has got to be at the heart of innovation – hasn’t it?
After all, isn’t that what User Experience is about? It’s not really about wireframes, it’s how you energise a group of people to deliver an amazing User Experience. It’s the method of calibrating a team or dept, perhaps even a company, to deliver for the customer.
And we’ll all know about some success stories where this calibration happens fairly well, mostly eCommerce and digital businesses like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Zappos.
Yet the majority of organisations aren’t like this. They contain lots of crappy conversations around customer and UX can see that with a clarity other teams do not.
The result is that UX calibrates ambition too high, too fast for most companies. They see the size of the opportunity from the customer perspective and want to get it on the agenda straight away…
But this clarity is threatening to other employees.
When you put evidence in front of them you must take into account that the opposite of ambition is today’s reality. Often the people you’re trying to convince to see the opportunity will be thinking about managing up, side-ways into cross-departmental politics as well as budget constraints, profits and headcount issues that UX people tend to miss. This is what we misconstrue, we feel the need to protect UX from this but it’s REAL.
And up go our UX umbrellas. We complain that “they don’t understand UX”. Yet by putting up our defenses, we alienate the stakeholders who would agree that what’s needed is a cross-channel discipline that can calibrate everyone’s ambition to the same level. Our over ambition causes stakeholders and non-design colleagues to lose their trust in us, and force them into believing they must do it and simply tell the rest of us what’s to be done. But it’s impossible because their silos are well established and hard to see out of.
But they need our help. We can calibrate across departments right? We can be trusted… We know that UX is not old wine in new bottles, trying to make UX the next silo to own the customer.
So why isn’t UX at the heart of every business from boardroom to Marketing and Product Management?
- Our UX brand is not working. UX is not just about “users”, it’s about customers. And by confusing this our message is DOA in the board room. And yet the board needs us more than ever. It’s often the only place where a cross silo view of the business comes together, but they are usually preoccupied with delivering shareholder value.
- The Exec delegates the customer experience challenges to the CMO. Marketers and Product Managers are the well-established point people in organisations for “what should we do next to improve our customer experience”, not UX.
- Product Marketing is giving UX a defined role where User Research can be run by an Administrator and interface design is driven by creative Engineers. Google, Amazon and even the leading Chinese Twitter and Facebook emulators are turning to this model where UX’s role is primarily to design and facilitate the customer conversation – a worthy task but one that’s really digital, rather than experiential.
Yet I see UX’s role as running customer driven innovation across channels to market, calibrating efforts across departments to deliver a great customer experience across call centres, face to face, online and via mobile devices. Therefore we must appeal to the Executive, the Marketers and the Product people so they see how we can help them address the big innovation issues through our talent for calibrating ambition in a big way – that’s what UX strategy is about.
This is ambitious for UX. It’s a 10 ton problem that can’t be resolved by another cool presentation.
So what the hell is UX going to do?
Let me briefly return to my University days where this talk started. Throughout my final year the Chartered Institute of Marketing started to target me, and every other business student, with a package of courses and qualifications that would help increase my value. They were diligent, they were relentless. They were tied into every university and commercial organization across the UK, and still are.
The CIM understand their value, to the student and commercial organisatons, and they represent, through their membership, Marketing’s best interests. They provide an alter for Marketers to worship at, donate to, and learn from.
So where’s our church? I think the Design Council, DBA and DMI are doing good stuff… but they’re focused on Design in a wider context.
And in my experience Execs don’t take design seriously, at least not yet, and UX specifically has a stronger case for customer driven innovation than the wider design discourse so we shouldn’t actually tangle ourselves up in all that.
So that leaves us with BIMA, UXPA… but are they talking to Directors and key decision makers about UX? Are they lobbying our cousins in the Customer Experience industry on our behalf?
When I compare the amount of targeted, relevant and interesting mail I’ve had in the last 20 years from the CIM to the amount I’ve received from our own industry, I’m inclined to say UX doesn’t really have an effective industry body. These bodies reflect the UX industry’s introspective, naval gazing approach.
The first thing I’d suggest is that you must expect the Industry Bodies, Agencies and UX Consultancies to build a church. These organisations will need to create alliances with other industries, such as customer experience, and in particular the IoD because directors need to grasp that UX is well equipped to solve the big innovation challenge they face – converting innovative ideas into real customer experiences.
The next thing is sort out the brand, in fact we need to ask ourselves whether we are talking a language that reflects our ambition and our audience? Are we really eating our own dogfood, and liking the taste?
UX might already be inputting into business strategy, defining CX and working across touchpoints… but it’d be easier if UX started to use the same language as everyone else.
As mentioned before, we know the Marketers had to wait 40 years to get traction so we need to accept that evolving our brand and building new industry bodies will not happen quickly. So what can we do in the meantime with the UX role today?
If you are not working on cross-channel projects driven by Exec team it’s highly likely your role is part of a smaller team, typically with a variety of skills not only design related. Many of you will be working Agile, and whatever your working method we have to get UX out of the wireframing box at ground level. So having a clearly described job title will help for starters…
If you don’t see yourself primarily as an interaction designer or information architect, and you still do UX work, you’ll find yourself doing a coaching role. A UX Coach isn’t specialised in a particular design skill, rather she’s an all-rounder and uses personas, patterns, design principles, research findings, wireframes, mental models, customer journeys and so on to describe the problem space. Then she coaches her colleagues to constantly consider and think about the customer view. And you really need good workshop skills to use these tools in a coaching style… you mustn’t perfect things, the goal is to be communicating with your toolkit and getting feedback.
I’ve used Accenture and “rock star” consultants like Marty Cagan, they’re great idea magpies – good for inspiration but their role is not to see it through, it’s to get things started. The coach is there to help colleagues uncover their own ideas, by adopting a coaching style you will help structure the way in which ideas are discovered and implemented as a group, making this a long-haul role that’s at least a couple of years long.
The primary aim for a UX coach is calibrating ambition across your team. This will include calibrating ambition UPWARDS over time. Bear in mind that you’ve got to be careful you don’t jump in too fast with ambition that’s calibrated way higher than your colleagues. Only push the dial up once you have the trust of your colleagues and a solid base of problems everyone agrees on solving.
Of course you also need to work well with Product Management. I like to think of the football metaphor, where the Product Manager is the Gaffer, and you are the team coach. They need to deal with the business and politics, you are there to make sure the team game-plan is scoring goals against competitors and defending customers from poor experiences!
However, if you struggle to get in front of the Product Manager’s stakeholder group use the workshops within the Agile team to demonstrate your ability, and ask your product manager to invite stakeholders into the team workshops you’re running – this is good PR for the team. Your product manager will see they benefit from better quality information that you’ve coached out of stakeholders, whilst you’ll gain a better view of the wider business challenges.
And finally, as a UX coach I wanted to give you a few techniques that I find myself using regularly:
- Understand what your colleagues understand about customers, especially the developers… if engineers see the pain things often happen more quickly.
- Work next to the Engineers, but don’t let the ambition calibrate down by getting too close to the technology.
- Understand where someone is and where you want to take them in terms of their customer know-how.
- Mirror feedback from them to them to ensure you both understand, so you can see where the gaps are.
- Turn everything into a question. A simple technique is the 5 whys? Don’t take the first answer for granted, always dig deeper.
- Embrace the learning experience, by understanding business and technology challenges you’ll become a better team member and you’ll be able to maintain ambition.
- Become an excellent workshop facilitator, you’ll be a key weapon in your managers toolkit making it more likely you’ll get in front of stakeholders.
Derek Sivers has a great quote which is “There’s no such thing as failure, if everything is an experiment.”
This is what’s best about being a UX Coach, encouraging people to let go of inhibitions and enjoy the creative process of working in nimble, multi-disciplinary teams.
UX will become more than an umbrella term for a bunch of disciplines no one outside understands… being a UX Coach means something that’s describable and valuable. With time the UX industry will hopefully deliver a fully integrated vision for how it can support a kind of innovation that’ll revolutionise business the way marketing did in the latter half of the last century.
UX is the future. For me it’s clear: I think we need to build a church, take a coaching approach and remember to calibrate ambition carefully. Good luck in making it so!