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5 Ways to Handle the Design-directing Business Rep

I was reading a blog article, "9 do’s and don’ts of UX design", this evening and found this particular section concerning:

"...sometimes too much corporate oversight can limit the design process, as many clients, who obviously aren’t designers themselves, don’t exactly know what looks and functions best on the web. While they surely have the best intentions, sometimes UX design is best left to the designers—they’re the ones with experience in the field after all."

Coming from a corporate environment, this was really more of a whine since it didn't contain any constructive suggestions to handle the situation. So I thought I would share some things I've learned through the years about working with business reps.

1. Everybody is visual. Go with it.

While you may have a business analyst to elicit business rules and process and to define the problem, when the solution is a UI it's easier for someone to draw out what they're thinking than to explicitly describe it with words. After all a picture is worth a thousand words.

Instead of being aggravated by your business owner, use the picture to determine what problems they're trying to solve and/or what the change in process is that they trying to voice through their solving of the problem.

2. If they want to be involved in design, involve them.

Some business people want to be involved with the actual creation of the product not just saying what the product should do. In some cases they want to just give you ideas to consider. Others want more hands on as part of the design.

Involve them as much as they want to be. It's never a bad thing to have a business person involved. That may mean in some cases you may have an at-the-hip collaborator, at least until they find out what it really takes to do research and design work.

If you land in this case, and yes it can be annoying, use it to your advantage. Get them to work for you. Have them to do leg work for you, such as UI pattern research. This teaches them more about what UX really is.

3. Always evaluate a business owners' ideas.

Don't disregard a business representative's design ideas. Always see if they can work for you in the design. If you don't use their ideas make sure you tell them why their solution won't work. It's important that they know you're hearing them. You're creating good will.

4. Teach! At every opportunity you're given.

Teach business reps; teach your project team; teach your own UXers. Teach them:

  • what enterprise UX is (versus consumer UX)
  • what the ROI is
  • the psychology and design theory you're using
  • why you're talking to users and what you're getting out of it
  • show them how it all works together

5. Don't skip a thorough design critique.

This is something I've learned the hard way. Between agile and our business reps' very busy schedules, I wasn't taking responsibility to show and explain my design work. We went straight into business analysis making sure it met business requirements and then using it as a spring board to continue with analysis.

After one of those emails to a developer where the business owner tried to redesign a whole page, we had a meeting where I explained about 1/4 of the design principles, psychology and user research that went into how the page was laid out. This allowed me to have a better discussion about why the business owner wanted to change it, their perceptions of the page and what could easily be changed. But now they also now understand some basic design theory and they can see it in other work I've done.

So this meeting is one of the most important things you can do to teach business about UX, design and what works and doesn't work.

I'll be honest. I've made a lot of mistakes in working with business people. In the past I've treated them like interlopers into my territory, as if they were one more developer telling me how it was going to be with no choice. I even developed a hate-hate, beyond repair, relationship with one person. All because I had the same attitude as the person writing the blog I read this evening.

We can't have this attitude with business. We have to invite business people into our process. Because if we teach them, not only will we have one more design resource, but we will have an evangelist working on our behalf at the management level.


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