25 expert opinions on how to communicate the value of UX to stakeholders

It’s a bit like talking to a brick wall, except the brick wall isn’t just ignoring you, it’s telling your colleagues you don’t know what you’re talking about, sends messages from their phone while you’re trying to explain something, accuses you of inventing the term “UX” and is somehow in charge of how much money you have on a daily basis.

old style telephones

But it doesn’t have to be like that.

Armed with the proper tools, guidance and methods of communication, you should be able to convince anyone within your organisation about the value of UX and the positive impact it will have on the bottom line – without resorting to cattle-prods, lies or locking yourself in the stationery cupboard and having a very loud cry.

First however you’ll need some sound advice from a panel of UX experts who know a little something about talking to budget-holders and convincing them to invest in user experience. But where will you find such a panel!? Come with me…

Over the last couple of weeks we asked some of the most respected UX professionals the following question…

How do you communicate the value of UX to stakeholders?

And here you’ll find the detailed replies from 25 of our favourite UXers. Their answers range from showing tangible based evidence, to recommending different communication techniques, to generally being more empathetic.

There’s so much brilliant, helpful advice here and we’d like to send a massive thank you to everyone who contributed. And if anything you read below helps you win over a stakeholder, feel free to give them a shout-out too.

Let’s begin…

Communicate the right message to the right people



Andy Budd

Managing Director, Clearleft

@andybudd


We used to come across this problem all the time when we first started. Fortunately, these days the majority of our clients approach us because they've already bought in to the value of user experience and, by extension, customer experience. That doesn’t mean that everybody in the organisation feels the same, so we still have to do a little proselytising. However it helps if you have a senior stakeholder backing your position.

There’s no one perfect way of communicating the value of UX to sceptical stakeholders. Some stakeholders are motivated by numbers, forcing you to quantify the benefits. You can do this by sourcing third party data, or running a small test to prove the results. Other stakeholders are motivated by social proof, so you can demonstrate how other brands they look up to use these techniques. Some stakeholders need to see the effects on the team to really appreciate the value, which is where design sprints come into play. Other stakeholders are all about finding operational efficiencies, so demonstrating how UX practices can reduce waste and speed delivery may be your way in.

Much like UX design itself, there’s no one size fits all strategy, so you need to tailor your approach to both the audience and the problem at hand. So the best advice would be to use your design thinking and storytelling abilities to communicate the right message to the right people.



Provide tangible evidence



Katy Arnold

Head of User Research and Design, Home Office, UK Government

@katyarnie


At the Home Office, we’re approaching this challenge in different ways. One way is to show benefits that they understand. By being clear about the desired outcomes of a service, and finding ways to measure against those outcomes, we are able to provide stakeholders with tangible evidence of how well their service is really doing.

Often decision-makers don't have the information they need in order to know what to do next. Providing them with data from measured outcomes meets a core need and can be a powerful way to make the case for a user centred, service-led approach to public service delivery.

Another way is to get better value for stakeholders out of the user research that we do. Documenting, storing and sharing user research badly, often means new teams have to start from the beginning every time. This is wasteful and makes it hard for stakeholders to see the value in what we do.

So we make sure we always create artefacts that are the most useful and accessible to other researchers, stakeholders and policy-makers across government. Storing and sharing these artefacts consistently helps to achieve better outcomes for users and increases the perceived value of user centred design amongst our stakeholders.



Do one project really well



Harry Brignull

User Experience Consultant, brignull.com

@harrybr


If you’re a practitioner having to regularly explain UX to stakeholders, you’re likely to be in an organisation with a low-to-middle level of UX maturity. So instead of thinking about how to deal with it at an individual level, you should think about how you can move your organisation forward as a whole.

The thing about UX research and design transformation is that it involves a shift in the power dynamic within an organisation. Sometimes entire departments need to change the way they do things. Sometimes you need to train a number of people. If you try this as a mid-level practitioner or a middle-manager on your own, you’ll probably meet resistance and annoyance. You need very senior executive sponsors to make that kind of change happen. Exemplar Projects are very good at helping an organisation know “what good looks like” and in getting the executive sponsors that you need.

Do one project really well in your organisation. Engage in collaboration, discovery, user research and iteration. Show how a good process can deliver amazing results. The rest can follow.



Improve something that's related to a stakeholder's current focus



Jared Spool

Founder of UIE, Co-founder of Center Centre, centercentre.com

@jmspool


You can’t convince a smoker to quit smoking. They need to just decide they’ll do it. On their own. When they are ready.

It’s the same with executives. Neither I, you, nor anybody else can convince an executive to invest in user experience. I haven’t met someone who could pull this off in all my years, but they could exist. Even so, I don’t believe a presentation will change their views.

What can you do instead of a presentation? You can find out what your executives are already convinced of. If they are any good at what they do, they likely have something they want to improve. It’s likely to be related to improving revenues, reducing costs, increasing the number of new customers, increasing the sales from existing customers, or increasing shareholder value.

Once you start talking about what the executives are already convinced of, it becomes easier to get them to make investments. How will your better user experience increase revenue? Decrease costs? Get new customers?

Talk in their terms and you’re no longer trying to get them to change their focus. You’re playing directly into their main field of attention.


Reprinted with permission from Jared M. Spool’s post ‘Why I can’t convince your execs to invest in UX


Point at previous successes



Gerry Gaffney

Director, Information and Design

@gerrygaffney


I think we need to communicate both the need for UX, and its value. We can demonstrate need most effectively by having stakeholders observe real-world interactions. Whether this is direct observation or audio or video recording, poor UX will often be glaringly obvious. Well-presented analytic data can also be powerful.

It's important to consider what stakeholders value, and how UX can tie into that. Corporate goals may have 'hooks' that you can attach to UX. A goal to create a good work environment, for example, can be a hook for improving internal systems. A goal to maximise sales can be a direct driver of a push to minimse purhase abandonment rates.

Being able to point at previous successes can be very effective, whether they are within the stakeholders' organisation, or in similar or competitive situations.

And of course the best projects and organisations have UX as a fundamental consideration; their stakeholders don't need to be persuaded of value. If possible, work for them!



Let them see for themselves



Chris Callaghan

UX and Optimisation Director, McCann Manchester

@CallaghanDesign


The best way for stakeholders to understand the value of UX is not necessarily to ‘communicate’ it to them – but to let them see it for themselves.

Involving stakeholders from the outset enables them to see all parts of the process and to go on the journey with you. The role of the UX practitioner in this instance is to facilitate the user centred design process and to create engagement within the organisation.

Whether its gamestorming, journey mapping, having stakeholders observe usability testing, or running collaborative design sprints – the important thing is to let stakeholders see the value for themselves.

If you can’t involve stakeholders and your only option is to show them, then videos of real people struggling to turn into customers is a very powerful technique. There’s nothing worse than watching traffic you’ve paid for fail to turn into a lead or revenue because of a usability issue or failure to address an anxiety.

If you need to be persuasive with your communication, then make sure you use your stakeholder’s language – this might be talking in terms of reducing cost, increasing revenue, or demonstrating the ROI. Find their levers and reframe your argument to fit their view of value. Help them to see the benefits in their language.



Have empathy and convince with data



Astrid Paris

UX Lead, Launch Interactive

astridparisUX


Having empathy for users won’t get you very far unless you also have empathy for the business. Make the case for UX research and design by tying real-world, current customer pain points to the organization’s bottom line.

Is there a high volume of support tickets around a certain area in your product? For SaaS, look at registration flows, user login frequency, paths through the system, and feature usage. Two good cases for conducting UX research are understanding why users aren’t converting to customers and whether certain features should continue to get love. For enterprise software, are there trends in questions asked during pre-implementation customer training sessions? Places where customers are consistently getting stuck? For ecommerce, keep an eye on shopping cart abandonment rates.

Put a monetary value on UX issues. Time-to-resolution on support tickets, trial conversion rate, subscriber churn rate, time spent explaining to new customers the workarounds to use your bad UI, customer costs in time spent creating internal SOPs (standard operating procedures) to document that bad UI, time spent refactoring code for dead-weight features. Time = money.



Speak their language: ROI



Jon MacDonald

Founder and President, The Good

@jonmacdonald


Communicate value in terms of ROI. Great UX reduces customer service overhead, lowers customer acquisition costs, increases average order value and customer lifetime value, and of course helps convert more of your existing traffic into buyers. These are all metrics that ensure a measurable ROI from marketing initiatives.

Budget holders and other C-level executives love ROI, and communicating a clear return on UX investments helps to get them on-board as stakeholders.



Respect your stakeholder's experience, time and perspective



Aleksandra Melnikova

Experience Design Director, Radley Yeldar

@alex_andr_a


Embrace your audience’s perspective: When trying to pitch UX to stakeholders, many are coming at it from their own perspective and own perception of value. This is understandable as our own frame of reference is always the most easily accessible one. As an experience designer, you design products with people in mind, so why not consider your audience needs in this instance? Teams have their own KPIs, so think about why they need to listen. Investing in understanding the business and learning to speak this new language will enable you to compose a relevant story.

Respect your audience’s time: our time allowance in communication varies, from a short discussion in the elevator to a two hour presentation to the board - be ready to look at your own discipline through macro and micro lenses, switching the pacing and density of your delivery when necessary.

Make experience design the narrative: when you see a human being it does not occur to you to question whether they need a skeleton to function. Similarly, make sure experience design is an integral part of your narrative, seamlessly flowing from business considerations into experience strategy and user experience design, through to the final output whatever shape that takes.

Don’t be your own worst enemy: the most common mistake I see is UX professionals decreasing their own value by focusing on tactical deliverables rather than understanding the bigger picture. When UX gets diminished into ‘that wireframing bit’, very little can save it in terms of demonstrating value in the eyes of the business. UX is systems thinking - psychology, research, empathy, analysis, logic, creativity and modelling of new and better worlds - it's imperative to elevate your presentation to show the many sides of this practice.



Show them how UX is simply common sense



Jonas Downey

Designer, Basecamp

@jonasdowney


I consider UX to be intrinsic to the design process - it's a fundamental ongoing concern, not a separate thing you do in isolation.

With that in mind, the easiest way to make an argument for UX is to show concrete examples. Outside stakeholders don't always have deep knowledge of design processes, and UX is an abstraction that can be tricky to understand (even for seasoned designers.)

So you need to show them why UX matters - and a lot of times it's simply common sense. Fight for clear copywriting, shorter or smoother UI flows, and more time for research and testing. Then explain why those things will drastically improve your product or business.



Torture your stakeholders with bad design



Elizabeth Chesters

UX Consultant, echesters.co.uk

@echesters


Empathy is a great tool. Not only is it useful for your job, but it’s useful for your stakeholders to understand what UX is. User experience can be difficult to describe. The only time you see UX is in a user’s face - but you need buy-in to reach that point.

When speaking to stakeholders get them to share their own terrible experiences. Ask them “What apps do you not use - and why?” and I bet they’ll have their own experiences to share. Listen to them and understand their fears or myths around UX. Then work with them to understand that your product may be putting users through the same terrible experiences. No one is willing to pay for a terrible experience, not even your stakeholders. This is a loss of money to them and this is where the UX resource helps.



Show concrete results, not processes



Doug Collins

UX Engineer, Denver UXer

@5280_CS


For any change, people want to know what's in it for them. They care less about the process that you took to arrive at a decision and more about what the end result will be for them in particular. For internal stakeholders, this means being able to prove a dollars and cents change or a clear competitive advantage. For our end users and clients, it means being able to show how your proposed solution will benefit them personally, either by time or cost savings.

You’ll also need to be able to speak their language. Different groups - and individuals within those groups - have different sets of community jargon and preferred communication styles. UX professionals are no exception, and too often we fall into the trap of trying to communicate everything, including value, in our own terms and style.

Your language should never be a barrier to your message. Be careful to eliminate UX jargon and design speak from your value propositions, and adjust your communication style to that of your audience.



Provide a clickable prototype



Luis Rodriguez

UX Designer, Teknolog IO

@UXCodeLine


On a tactical level, nothing beats a clickable prototype of an idea that's based on user research or that aims to solve pain points because it looks and feels like the ‘real thing’… there's a certain amount of power a stakeholder will personally feel when they actually go through an app or other digital product and they feel part of the UX process (this can lead to buy-in for usability testing which is super cool!)

However, to get to that level of engagement requires a strategic approach to communicating the value of UX, primarily gaining their trust, which for me has meant finding out what their stressors are (these can be external or internal to the project) and proposing UX activities or methods that can shed light on, or sometimes solve, their hesitancies.



Show results



Hugo Froes

UX Strategist and Evangelist, hugofroes.com

@hugofroesUX


I’ve found that the easiest way to sell the value of UX is by showing results. Actual data that supports my arguments. I usually achieve this using two techniques:

1. I bring the stakeholders into the workshop environment and make them part of the process so they can see the value for themselves and be a part of it.

2. By making sure the objectives and KPIs are set-up properly so that when things start moving forward, we can understand the impact.

In the past I’ve had to make some calculated risks below the radar to achieve some outcomes that could be presented to the stakeholders. My go-to option to get the conversation going though is Peek from User Testing. The feedback from a real user helps every time.



Focus on what stakeholders already care about



Paul Boag

User Experience Consultant, Boagworks Ltd

@boagworld


To be honest, I don’t even bother trying to convince stakeholders of the value of user experience. People are too wrapped up in their challenges to worry about the user. Instead, I focus on what they already care about. That might be increasing sales, winning work, reducing cost or any number of other things.

Creating a better user experience can help with most business problems, so that is where I focus - on meeting stakeholder needs by creating happier, more engaged users.



Play the same game - only better



Sherryl Tarnaske

Chief Experience Officer, Focus21

@starnaske


Traditionally, stakeholders receive reports filtered through the writer's operational, sales, engineering, or marketing lens. The interpretations are framed to align with a departmental agenda, as opposed to the customer success metric.

As UX professionals, we see boondoggles in every hour spent crafting this prose of promises without end-user input. So how do we paint the proverbial elephant in the room for stakeholders to recognise? We play the same game - only better.

We look for ways to check alignment for organisational success metrics and customer experience feedback. We're vigilant in our research and listen to similar pain points in the journey from all sides. We use feedback from current, prospect and previous customers independent of the organisational bias to understand what success looks like. Then and only then, do we use our findings to add a compass layer of how closely the organisational success metrics align with customer success metrics.

Use the conversation to expand the current perspective mapped to customer insight and data then collaborate to define a new pathway to success. Help them be heroes within their organisation by working with you - not against you.



Be unconventional



Cyril Rouhana

Senior UI/UX Designer and Team Lead, Label Engine

@crouhana


Dealing with stakeholders with different backgrounds is hard. And trying to communicate what UX is and its value is even harder, that’s why sometimes, you must use some unconventional methods!

Educate: a dedicated internal slack channel is where I frequently post design and UX related articles from my regular readings. The channel is open to anyone in the company to join and give feedback. In addition, a bi-weekly workshop around UX basics and how to incorporate it into every day tasks.

Communication: sharing new wireframes or UI as prototypes with links so anyone in the company can check them prior to weekly hangouts where I discuss everything with the main stakeholders and give/get feedback.

Everything needs to have a purpose: train your stakeholders to know WHY you did something by explaining to them that everything has a purpose and delivering that purpose.

Informal get togethers: a stakeholder might understand your point of view better after a glass of wine or a pint of beer. I’m not saying that it’s a THING, but sometimes people are more open to new ideas in informal settings.



See their point of view



Jessica Lovegood

UX Consultant, Booking.com

@lovegooddigital


The most important thing is to speak in their language. There is no use explaining it in a way you or another user experience designer would understand, you must use your UX skills to see things from their point of view, just as you would do with a user.

What is it that they want to achieve out of the work you’re doing? What is their current perspective so that you can move them towards a place where they understand the value more? How do they talk about their own results?

Speaking to them in a manner that creates the least amount of friction is key, therefore understanding the context of their current knowledge and what they’re used to is essential.

When you design something you consider what the user needs, how to get them to their end goal and make it enjoyable along the way - so that they feel the value of whatever you’ve designed. Why not do the same for your stakeholders?



Don't lecture, instead coach and mentor



Franco Scaramuzza

Director of UX & UI, Core10

@fscaramuzza


In order to effectively communicate the value of UX to stakeholders and decision makers it is best to actually apply UX strategies to the communication. Who is the audience? How technically versed are they? How long is their attention span? What are their goals and key trigger points?

You will lose your audience if you talk too much about technical details or over simplify. By carefully choosing analogies to which the audience can relate, I help them to draw their own conclusions as to why attention to detail, understanding the audience and overall research are so important. These are not necessarily tangible deliverables but they will guarantee a holistic experience across multiple channels and media. This will increase the comfort level the user, client, consumer or customer has and therefore have a beneficial impact on the business goal.

I try not to lecture but rather coach or mentor. I believe the Socratic method is more effective than a lengthy presentation that (almost forcefully) tries to convince the stakeholder. Once your audience is educated about the value of UX, they will not only understand it but also promote it for you to others.



Use storytelling to bring insights to life



Tarah Srethwatanakul

Service Designer & Researcher, Globant Consulting

@tsreth


Identify your stakeholders and their business needs: at the start of a project, make the time and effort to understand who your different stakeholders are and what they need to get out of user research - whether that's through a kick-off workshop or stakeholder interviews. You'll then be able to involve them in the most relevant activities and tailor your delivery of user insights to their business needs.

Work in an embedded team: work alongside the people who would be most affected by your recommendations - that means taking them along to research where possible and exposing them to design decisions. When stakeholders are set-up to be part of the research and design process, they're more likely to become customer advocates and you'll unearth solution constraints more quickly.

Bring user needs to life: it's valuable to have a list of user needs, but stories are what stick in people's minds. Use quotes, photos, video or audio clips to bring your insights to life during playbacks so that stakeholders have tangible and emotive stories to share when discussing product or service improvements.



Prove the value



Jon Warden

Head of Product and UX, Haymarket Media Group

@jonwarden


In my opinion, there is only one way to communicate the value of UX to stakeholders, and that is to prove its value. Either in the data, or in ROI or in another measurement metric. Stakeholders, especially those that are focused on financials - and most are - want to be shown financial reward and return on their investment.

Creation of core objectives and how you go about delivering those objectives is extremely important before a project is initiated. What are we doing, and why; thereby setting the right metrics by statements of intent. Example: 'we want to increase user registrations by +20%' is an outcome statement. The UX process if successful will be measured on that statement of intent. And that is how you prove the value of 'good' UX.

There are multiple ways of doing that, be it guerrilla testing, a lean UX process, fail fast hypothesis of assumptions, launch and learn. All valid examples of UX techniques. There is no one right way to do UX, but the process should be baked into what a company, team, or product is trying to achieve. The idea is to create UX based on those objectives and then measure based on those outcomes. Done successfully then this proves (and communicates) the value of UX to stakeholders.



Show them something tangible



Llara Geddes

Head of UX, Beauty Bay

@The_Llara


When communicating the value of UX to stakeholders, it's key to be able to provide something tangible. This both helps show value AND reinforces the message that UX 'isn't just design or wireframes'.

This 'something tangible' can take the form of data insight - showing where customers drop off in a funnel, providing analysis and a hypothesis around why that might be and, importantly, explaining the business impact, can be very powerful.

Tangible can also be user insight. Survey results or user videos (using a tool like WhatUsersDo!) can help encourage empathy and understanding in stakeholders, and seeing or hearing the pain that users experience on-site brings UX to life.



Help them understand that UX is more than just visual design



Gary Coker

Director of UX, Clearwater Compliance

@garycoker


The first step in communicating the value of UX is to ensure everyone understands its scope. Many stakeholders view UX as only aesthetics and visual design, and this contributes to their skepticism of UXʼs value. So itʼs critical to help them understand that UX is also interaction design, information architecture, content strategy, workflow design, user research, usability testing, language and front-end engineering.

Itʼs also helpful to ask stakeholders what they know about their users - age, education, context in which they use the product, features they use most or least? Teams that donʼt have UX integrated into their process will have a very difficult time answering these questions. When stakeholders understand what UX is and how it can directly meet user needs, they begin to see the value UX brings.

Finally, itʼs important to understand who the key stakeholders are, especially those that make budget decisions, and turn them into UX advocates. Use case studies that show not only that UX pays for itself by improving products but that great experiences also contribute directly to the bottom line by creating happy, loyal users who will promote products by word-of-mouth - the most valuable form of marketing.



Use their own personal experience to help them understand users



Hila Yonatan

UX Lead and Freelance Strategist, HilaYonatan.co.il

@HilaYonatan


Communicating the value of UX is a common woe, which many professionals find themselves in a need to deal with, and it is often not regarded as an actual part of the job.

It is commonly agreeable that tackling the issue from a financial standpoint is the easiest approach, but personally, I would go for showing the value and results. But how? Most often, I'd ask stakeholders to use their own product, and experience firsthand the various steps and the 'journey' of the end-user. From my experience, this turns out to be most convincing 🙂

In other cases, for example in the absence of an actual product to use, I tend to display the flows with different branding, and ask for input. Often, changing the perspective helps achieve objectiveness, which leads to the conclusion that a change of the user experience (or just parts of it) is required.

So basically, I think that personal experience helps stakeholders see their products from the users' angle, and understand the shortcomings of the overall experience. But most importantly, I think that the top priority is understanding the value their product can offer.



Don’t show them how the sausage gets made



Jon Peterson

Lead UX Designer, jon-peterson.com

@jp_pete


When you think about trying to show stakeholders the ROI of UX, it’s easy to start with a comprehensive explanation of what UX does. Don’t! It’s a trap. Most of us don’t really know the full scope of what a doctor does with a blood sample or what a mechanic will do when we leave our car in the garage. What we do know is that the end result will be helpful. We’ll get an accurate diagnosis of why we’ve been sick or our car will come out of the shop running better. In other words, we see value because of the end result.

UX is the same way. Explain to your stakeholders how more intuitive designs will lead to more user engagement and hence higher conversions. Remind them that frustrated users probably won’t be repeat users and may even go over to the competition. Point to companies like Apple that have built an entire business value proposition not on hardware specs or price point, but rather on ease of use and intuitiveness of the product. Just don’t focus on trying to show them how the sausage gets made.

Ultimately you have to show value to stakeholders beyond the theoretical. So that’s where analytics are so crucially important, not just to gain insight upfront but also to prove that the UX is actually getting better and delivering business value.



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Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher is the Content Marketing Manager of WhatUsersDo. He’s also the editor of wayward pop culture site Methods Unsound. He used to be the deputy editor of Econsultancy and editor Search Engine Watch.

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