How to sell UX as skillfully as Jay Z sells water to a well The UX Crunch @ The Rainmaking Loft (Mon 31st October 2016) review

How to sell UX
“I sell ice in the winter, I sell fire in hell

I’m a hustler, baby, I’ll sell water to a well…”

The great philosopher, Mr Jay “Jigga” Z

What’s it like to have the sales savvy of Jay-Z? I wouldn’t know… but I know many UX professionals who’d like to find out.

UX professionals who know the perfect user research method for solving a pressing problem, and how much it will cost.

There’s only one problem – someone else controls the money – and they’re not buying this UX “schtick”. In the less straight-forward, more uncomfortable world of bargaining for money, many of us aren’t as smooth as we otherwise might be.

But we want things to change – we need them to. At its latest event on “Soft Skills in UX”, The UX Crunch got some masters of selling UX to tell us how they do it:

  1. From zero to hero (getting beyond the boxes and arrows)Andy Marshall, Head of User Experience, Rufus Leonard
  2. Selling yourself and your work with amazing presentations Trenton Moss, CEO and Founder, Webcredible
  3. How important is user research? (And how to get clients to love it!) Dr Phil Bonhard, Design Director, Newt Idea

From zero to hero (getting beyond the boxes and arrows) – Andy Marshall

Andy began his talk by pointing to evidence that the business world doesn’t really understand UX professionals – out-of-touch and hyperbolic job titles such as “UX rockstars”, “UX ninjas” and “UX unicorn”.

According to Andy, most UX professionals are ever-curious geeks who don’t really identify with (or yearn for) some kind of business-celebrity status. This fundamental disconnect is symptomatic of the struggle to sway business leaders at a higher level.

Andy then delved into a list of qualities, which I interpreted to be those possessed by skilled UX professionals, but of which business people are often unaware.

true value of UX

These qualities separate a UX designer from someone who’s learned how to use a prototyping tool, for example. Qualities that bring real commercial value to a business.

When you help the suits understand these qualities, deference to your expertise becomes more likely.

Taking the time to learn each UI element

Andy used the example of knowing which fields to put in a form vs knowing the optimal way of presenting these fields.

A UX professional knows the elements of effective form layout – such as inline validation, a prominent and inviting CTA, alignment of text and form fields, helpful error messaging, identification of mandatory fields… and so on.

Andy gave an example of when he had to design a dashboard for a client and had 2 months to do so. This allowed him to read multiple books (like Stephen Few’s “Information Dashboard Design”), study examples and every detail of what makes a good dashboard.

A UX professional knows the devil is in the details – someone who can only lay out a form is more likely to simply know the devil.

Follow best practice with caution

Andy’s concerns about best practice hinge on two main arguments:

  1. “Best practice” isn’t best practice in every case
  2. Things that sometimes seem like best practice are, in fact, just unvalidated trends

To illustrate, Andy pointed to the increasing use of hamburger menus on “trendy” desktop websites.

The designers of these websites probably look at each other’s work and think, “Well, they’re all doing it… and it does look more elegant.” Meanwhile, our joint research with NNg shows that hamburger menus hurt businesses and their users.

Andy says, “Follow best practice but question everything.” Good UX professionals know this.

Watch out for instincts

Andy tricked us… and it worked.

He showed us 2 options for laying out buttons in a form and asked which one we’d go for. Most of us said Option 1.

Option 1 was incorrect.

UX form buttons positionsThanks to the way we read English language words on a page (left to right), we assume the right side of a page is where we proceed to the next, and the left side is where we revert to the previous.

But it turns out most people don’t use a web page the same way they do a paper one. 

When online, we’re much more likely to proceed through a form from top to bottom. So, where do we expect to find the “Next” button? Directly below the last form field on a page.

correct form buttons layoutAndy also used the example of Sheena Iyengar’s Jam Jar experiment. It shows that even though we love the idea of having more options, we’re more likely to complete a purchase when presented with fewer choices.

A UX professional watches out for their instincts while a non-professional is unlikely to do so.

Learn how people tick

Finally, Andy explained the importance of understanding the rules which guide human thinking and behaviour.

To illustrate, he talked about the Fusiform Gyrus (a part of the human brain that’s speculated to deal with pattern recognition) and the Fusiform Face Area, which is purported to deal specifically with faces and other familiar objects.

We can use our knowledge of how these aspects of the human brain work to enhance design.

Andy also talked about the 2 main systemic pathways our brains use for processing information:


  1. System 1: which processes simple information, automatically and subconsciously (low cognitive load)
  2. System 2: which processes complex information through conscious, analytical thought (high cognitive load)

According to Andy, System 1 helps us easily and efficiently complete tasks based on information like colour, patterns, shapes, length, orientation and direction.

However, System 1 is less effective at tasks involving things like angle and area, volume and saturation.

Good UX professionals take advantage of this knowledge, creating design which (as much as possible) requires only System 1 processing. This reduces the cognitive load placed on users.

Sheena Iyengar Jam Jar ExperimentAndy also mentioned that designs based on rules which are apparent in the real world feel immediately intuitive. He noted that Google’s ambitious “Material Design” guidelines are a great example of design trying to be more in tune with our real-world experiences.

Good UX professionals learn how people process visuals, make decisions and are motivated to act, when others simply make assumptions. It’s that clients understand this.

Selling yourself and your work with amazing presentations – Trenton Moss

You know how you can sometimes go up to 11? Well, Trenton started his presentation at 11… by shouting “Boring!” before he’d said anything else.

This was to illustrate one of his guidelines for persuasive presentations – always start with an impact statement.

Don’t start by introducing yourself (although you should do this later). Don’t start by thanking the audience. Hell, don’t start by stating the topic.

Do these only after you’ve gotten your audience’s attention with an impact statement. Trenton’s impact statement stressed the importance of not being boring.

He would know – as CEO of a thriving design and UX agency, he’s had to (successfully) sell UX to many a client.

He believes the same rules of persuasion apply, whether you’re presenting findings that you hope will force change or haggling for a bigger UX budget.

Trenton also said you should be excited about what you’re saying and your audience will be excited too.

avoid poor UX presentationsWhen he asked what people like to do to get pumped, one lady said she liked striking a power pose in front of a mirror, while a gent said… erm… cocaine.

Trenton advised to always open your mouth properly when speaking – command the attention of your audience with a confident volume.

I’ve summarised the rest of Trenton’s mind gems in a list. You’re welcome.

7 tips for a UX presentation that’ll glamour your audience better than a vampire can

  1. Don’t read from the Powerpoint… ever – always face your audience (don’t hide the fear in the whites of your eyes) and keep the text on each slide to a maximum of 10 words. Your audience won’t be distracted by trying to read while listening.
  2. Get comfortable with silence and pause in between sentences – if you forget something, don’t “uhhhm…” and “ahhhh…” Just be silent until you recover. Silence isn’t uncomfortable for the audience, it just feels that way to you because you’re in the spotlight.
  3. Use “notes view” while presenting – your audience only sees a succinct version of your presentation, while you can stay on track by viewing additional text in notes view.
  4. Always get to the presentation room early and test your setup – because technology always fails. Test and retest instead of letting a glitch disrupt your flow. Also, make sure you pick a spot to stand that doesn’t obscure the view of *anyone* in your audience.
  5. Always use active listening to turn difficult comments into productive discussions – people soften up when they feel heard. Instead of reasserting your point of view, repeat your opposition’s exact thoughts using your own words (to show that you understand and empathise with them).
  6. Stand your ground (if it’s the right thing to do) – you should always start with active listening, but if you have strong evidence to believe a point of view is detrimental, don’t be afraid to stand your ground. You’ll be respected for having a spine.
  7. End the same way you began… with an impact statement – instead of pussyfooting around pleasantries, summarise the point of your whole talk into a short and  illuminating statement.
active listening ux persuasion

Exercise: Trenton asked the room to provide “active listening” responses to these comments

Throughout his presentation, Trenton followed these rules and pointed out the moments in which he did so.

Then he split us into groups and made everyone in the room do a short presentation, following the same rules.

He ended with another of his self-styled impact statements, “Tell a story and, before you do, tell yourself that you’re friggin’ awesome!”

Your smartest business move is UX testing.

Try it for yourself – get a free trial showing 3 real people using your website or app, as they speak their thoughts

How important is user research? (And how to get clients to love it!) – Dr Phil

Dr Phil (no, not that Dr Phil) began his talk by emphasising the difference between an opinion and a fact… at least in the context of UX:


  • An opinion is an expression of a preference or feeling, based on zero evidence e.g. “I think the CTA button should be bigger.”
  • A fact is an expression of an experience which has already occurred e.g. “I can’t find the CTA button.”

According to Dr Phil, clients often start a project based on their opinions – e.g. “We need an app! Can you build us one?” Really, clients should start with user research… but they don’t like user research, so they avoid doing it.

Here are 8 reasons clients often give for avoiding user research and how you can combat them.

1. “We already know our users”

People in businesses will assume they know their users because they’ve interacted with them a lot.

You can present user research as an opportunity to ask questions, the answers to which the business doesn’t already have. You should always frame the outcome of research as being an answer to a specific question, like, “We’ll know exactly why people from xxx fail at registration.”

2. “We already do research”

Clients will often present market research as evidence that they’ve already done research.

Explain the differences between market research (observing trends in the buying decisions and behaviours of a demographic) vs user research (observing the nuances in behaviour among individuals within a demographic).

3. “We have experts”

Clients might ask why you, the expert, don’t know the answers to questions you want to resolve with user research.

Or they might claim they have experts, like product owners, who represent the voice and interests of customers. You can explain that thinking like a customer is not the same as being a customer. No simulation effectively represents the layers of data contained in the real thing.dealing with ux investment objections

4. “We always do usability testing”

Dr Phil explained that “there’s a difference between understanding users and their needs (user research), and observing users and what they do (usability testing).”

You can stress that user research helps you identify exactly for whom and which problems you should be designing for. This makes usability testing (after the fact) more effective. Clients won’t waste time running tests on the wrong audience and looking for the wrong answers.

5. “We don’t need to understand our users – they’re everyone”

Dr Phil believes we should help clients understand that user research isn’t about taking design orders from users – it’s about figuring out which problem the design needs to solve.

This shift in thinking, from demographics to problem or need-focussed, helps clients understand that not just anyone can fill in for a user.

6. “We can do that later, as it doesn’t fit our dev or agile method”

This problem often pops up in large companies, where change is difficult and no one in particular owns UX responsibilities.

Dr Phil suggested starting small and fitting in user research wherever and whenever you can. During dev sprint 0 or in-between regular projects.

7. “Money is tight – we can skip it”

To combat this, show that user research isn’t as expensive as people might imagine – it’s not something necessarily involving expensive cameras and extensively decked out labs.

You can even hit up the local Starbucks and spend your own money buying people coffee, so you can run small-scale research. The results of this exercise can help you win a bigger research budget.

8. “We don’t have access to users”

Clients will sometimes claim that their users are so busy, or sought after, or rare that you can’t get to them.

You can explain how technology now allows high-quality communication, with minimal effort. VOIP and chat tools like Skype, GoToMeeting and Google Hangouts are a dime a dozen.

And let’s say you really can’t get to these professionals, you can at least get to people who work closely with them. For example, if you can’t get to CEOs directly, you can glean as much information as possible from their personal or executive assistants. They basically run a CEO’s life anyway.

Overall verdict

I’ve never seen the topic of selling UX into organisations covered in such depth. Each moment came with a new lesson.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this article, join The UX Crunch Meetup page and don’t miss the next event on Human-Computer Interaction.

Get a newsletter that isn't all about us...

Subscribe for weekly, hand-picked articles about UX, design, and more every Friday—from the Be Good to Your Users blog and the rest of the whole darn web.

...get a little taste right here. 👅 🍭

Timi is a London-based copywriter and full-time marketing sceptic – there are now more unvalidated opinions out there than ever.

He became a UX testing enthusiast after seeing its power while working at TUI – the world’s largest travel, leisure and tourism company. He then joined WhatUsersDo to sharpen his UX knowledge and work side-by-side with the field’s best and brightest.

Leave a Reply