Convince Your Team to Conduct UX Research
by Terrance Kirkwood

There are countless resources available to help you, the lone UX Designer on your product team, make a case for incorporating UX Research into the Product Development process. Blog posts, eBooks and entire podcasts have been dedicated to the subject. Most of them more or less stick to the same universal themes:

  • UX Research results in better designs
  • UX Research helps you understand your users’ needs better
  • UX Research saves time and money by reducing development time

These points are all true and valid. Unfortunately, they probably won’t help you convince the product team to adopt UX Research. That is because they are framed in a way that assumes your product team prioritizes those things (better design, understanding users’ needs and saving development time and money) over their other responsibilities. Your product team may actually care about them, just not as much as they care about other business and technology issues. The bottom line is, those universal themes just don’t resonate with product teams, at least not enough to get them to embrace UX Research the way you want them to.

To get them to care about UX Research, you need to make your case in a way that will get their attention. Just like a car salesman needs to tap into what is truly valued by the prospective car buyer or the real estate agent must uncover what motives a new home buyer, you need to find out what it is that will inspire your product team to embrace UX Research. Then use that to drive its adoption. One of the best ways to do that is to leverage the strengths of UX Research itself. Make your case by employing the same techniques with your product team that you would use to improve the design of your product. Using empathy, expression and evidence—three core components of UX Research—can help you win over key members of your product team. These team members can, in turn, help you make a much more compelling and effective case for incorporating UX Research into the product development life cycle.

Begin making your case by exhibiting empathy for the product team’s point of view. One great way to do this is by acknowledging that some of the more common myths about UX Research are based on some truth. For example, we’ve all heard the following:

  • UX Research is expensive and time consuming
  • Good design can’t be measured
  • UX Research is common sense

I recommend you take a step back from defending UX and recognize that:

  • Some forms of UX Research can be expensive and time consuming
  • There is a subjective component to good design that can’t be measured
  • It’s easy to understand how UX Research can appear to be common sense

In addition to the afore mentioned myths, your team may have their own floating around that are used as objections to adopting UX Research. Take some time to find out what they are and why they exist. Understanding the history behind your team’s resistance to UX Research will ultimately help you make a stronger case in the end. When you acknowledge your product team’s point of view, you do two important things. First, you build up credibility as someone who “gets it” and you begin to shed the outsider status. Second, you know what battles not to fight. There’s no sense making your case by trying to dispel strongly held beliefs. As the Marines say, “Is that the hill you want to die on?” In the next section, you’ll learn how to identify the battles you should take on and why.

Next, you want to extend your empathy through expression. One way to do this is by speaking the language of the product team, particularly as you attempt to explain how UX Research can help them. By speaking their language, I mean two things.

First, if you really want UX Research adoption to happen, you’re going to have to get out of your design world and understand the world of the product team. That means, at a minimum, engaging them in discussions about their business and technology goals and issues. Express your empathy by demonstrating that you care about what’s important to them and what makes their jobs challenging. These are skills you already have. As a UX Designer, you use them all the time to create great experiences for your customers. You now need to project them toward your colleagues. There’s a specific reason for this approach. You will be doing this so you can speak their language in a second way, framing UX Research as solutions to their problems.

Ultimately, you want to leverage UX Research to create the best experiences for your users, to make your designs stronger. But wouldn’t it be great if you could get the entire team to buy into UX Research because they see it as a way to solve their problems too? UX can’t solve all their problems, but it can help out with some. For example:

  • UX Research can inform and support opportunity cost and tradeoff decisions
  • User Research can facilitate customer relationship channels for business evangelizing
  • User Research can support knowledge management and transfer of customer insights across the organization and over time

If you can demonstrate how the introduction of UX Research can help to address business functions—like the ones listed above—then you’ll have a much more attentive audience. In the next section, you will learn how to present your case to the product team for maximum effect.

Finally, once you’ve framed UX Research as a solution to business problems, you must demonstrate to the product team the awesome power of UX Research first hand. Start by conducting and recording some UX Research on your own.

Test your existing products with real customers to demonstrate how and why they struggle while using the product. Be prepared to make the point that UX Research could have caught those issues before the product was released to customers. Remember to focus on issues that directly relate back to the business concerns you identified through your expression phase. Additionally, consider conducting UX Research on your competitors. Use this as an opportunity to demonstrate how your product is performing against the competition. Again, be prepared to make the point that UX Research could have identified these gaps.

After you’ve conducted your research, create a highlight reel of the most interesting findings, observations and customer quotes. Remember, the more you can build a connection between the strengths of UX and the challenges of your colleagues, the stronger your case will be. To present your results, start with a small group made up of the core product team. These are your potential sponsors. Host a lunch and present your findings to them. Facilitate a discussion about what they see and how they think this information might help them. If you find some potential advocates among the group, ask them to help you drive more UX Research activities, starting with their products. It’s very important that you give them an opportunity to champion your cause before going public with your research. Your goal here is to build support, not alienate team members by sharing how bad their product is to the rest of the company.

This method should gain you some advocates for conducting more UX Research. Letting the power of UX Research speak for itself, letting your team witness their customers struggle to complete tasks and accomplish their goals, is what will compel teams to listen to the UX Designers’ recommendations.

If you are lucky enough to find some sponsors who will take on UX Research in their product life cycle, focus on doing a great job for that team. As they begin to see the return in value for adopting UX Research, ask them to advocate on your behalf to other product teams. An endorsement from product teams will go a long way in driving UX Research throughout the company.

Remember, as a lone UX Designer on a product team, you already have the skills you need to inspire your team to adopt UX Research. Empathy, expression and evidence are three techniques UX Professionals use every day to impact and improve their products. By leveraging these techniques, you can make a much more compelling and effective case for incorporating UX Research in the product development life cycle. And hopefully you can win over key individuals on your product team who will then sponsor your efforts and advocate on your behalf to drive more and more UX Research adoption across the entire organization.