A talk with Jonathan Shariat, a Silicon-Valley based director of product & design.

Most conversations about the value of user experience (UX) are in relation to what we can get from it:

  • Supercharge conversions!
  • Boost repeat business!
  • Increase form completion rates!

These things aren’t actually the reasons for the existence of UX – they’re just pleasant side-effects. The only way to talk about UX is to start with the philosophy of social responsibility at UX ‘s core.

This article is based on the idea that UX isn’t about what we stand to gain. It’s about the damage we’re automatically doing to people’s lives (and by extension, our businesses) when we ignore users.

Jonathan Shariat is director of product and design at Therapydia, a Silicon Valley start-up. While reading his viral article, How Bad UX Killed Jenny, I realised UX is a responsibility – like statutory law or food standards – even if it isn’t officially recognised as such.

I had a Skype interview with Jonathan, during which we talked about this responsibility to not make people suffer.

We also chatted about:

Timi: My name is Timi, I work at WhatUsersDo. I write there. I’m kind of like the editor for the blog, and also just the general editorial direction of the company. I’m on with Jonathan Shariat, who was a senior UX/UI designer at Therapydia, a Silicon Valley startup. But you’re now director of product and design at the same company. Is that right?

John: Yeah, actually now I’m doing some freelance work, finishing up the book, and taking a bit of sabbatical. My wife is doing nursing school and I was doing two full-time jobs. Yeah, so now I’m doing some freelancing and just taking it easy for a little bit.

Timi: Okay, cool. And you also used to be a comic artist, I gather.

John: Yeah, so before I got into design, I was into animation. So I’m really a huge fan of that whole area. But once I realized that I had to do a lot of work repeating myself, that was the point for me where I was like, “Maybe this is not it for me.” And I did comics for a while about video games, but I eventually figured out that, “Hey, I want to do design. That’s part of the creative side, and the analytical side that I have inside me that I want to use.” So that’s why I ended up picking UI design which was what it was called when I first started, and then now expanded to UX design including those things as well.

Timi: Okay, wow. I saw your comic on World of Warcraft. It was pretty good being someone who play that game a little bit. I never quite got to the hardcore addiction level, because I saw it happen to one of my friends and I was like, “No.” So yeah, it’s pretty cool.

John: Well, thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

Timi: So I’m just going to jump right in. So obviously you transitioned from a pure UX/UI role to something that incorporated product and design. So the first question I want to ask you, this is related to some of the other things I’m going to bring up later, i.e. your article, “How Bad UX killed Jenny,” which is about how a little girl who had cancer lost her life because of a bad interface design in the hospital software. And also your book, “Tragic Design: The True Impact of Bad Design.” So before we get into all of that, I’m just going to ask you, do you think the only way to create a truly good user experience is to get several business departments working together, or can a UX team basically produce its best work in isolation?

John: I think that’s a great question, and that’s something that we all face whether you’re a designer by yourself at a company or you’re part of a team that works on the button on one of the pages of a huge company. And I think the real answer is that you really have to get the whole organization onboard. So as a designer, at the very bottom of that chain, you have to start influencing from behind. You have to start influencing the person above you and have them influence the person above them. But of course in the meantime, the design team can really advocate for design where they’re at by being a little bit difficult. Standing up for where they want to see the product go as far as good design, and yeah, it really comes down to leading from behind. Like really being the person who’s constantly teaching design, advocating for design, and producing really good work.

Timi: Yeah, okay. Yeah, that makes sense. I think as you mentioned, it’s actually something you face in several business departments as someone who works in content and copywriting and all of that. It’s the same kind of thing. Everyone has their area of specialism, and you don’t necessarily get the same enthusiasm for your area that you have. And it’s almost part of the job, that skill, that ability to get other people to be as enthusiastic and to help you along the way because at the end of the day, a company has several departments, but it functions like one organism, and you all need to be…

John: Yeah, there’s another article I wrote reviewing what I had learned as the product director at Therapydia, because that was totally new to me. The title of it was “You Can’t Fix the UX without Fixing Everything.” And that’s one of the biggest lessons I learned which was this realization that if I really wanted to make an impact, I couldn’t just stay in my design world, I had to step into that role and affect the whole company as much as I could.

And I liked what you were saying. I think it is really important that for example if you are in copywriting or any position really, that you are constantly rubbing off on others. So you’re getting them excited about what you do, and you’re teaching them about the way you’re doing things, the why behind what you’re doing, and through that they gain an appreciation for what you do, and also that working relationship becomes less friction. It has less friction between it because they understand what you do, and so there’s a lot that can happen when you learn about what they do as well, and you start speaking their language. They start speaking your language which is copywriting, and maybe their language is business. Then all of a sudden there’s a much better working relationship there.

Timi: And you see opportunities to enhance each other’s roles, yeah.

John: Yeah, and it’s funny, for example I did that with a friend, an engineer, at another company that I worked at. And eventually I was getting critiques from him like, “Don’t you think this needs more kerning?” And I’m like, “Oh, what have I done?”

Timi: Kerning.

John: No, I can’t get this out the door.

Timi: Okay, well, that’s great that you actually brought up your article, “You Can’t Fix UX without Fixing Everything Else,” because it’s actually on my list of things I want to ask you about. And this one, feel free to discuss it or not. But in that article, one of the things that struck me was how open and candid you were about the ups and the downs of moving from senior UX/UI designer to director of product and design. And you spoke a bit about how you had to let a team go when the motivation was gone and the trust was gone. And this was a team that was supposed to be driving the product forward. And you built a new team, and there was trust and there was motivation.

So it got me thinking, you’ve actually seen a situation that worked, a situation that didn’t work. Do you have any thoughts about what makes the difference between those two situations where a whole company is moving together to enhance the UX and the UI? Because we’ve established that’s important, and where that isn’t the case.

John: So the question is, what do I think makes it work, and what…

Timi: Yeah.

John: Okay. So yeah. So I think, like I mentioned, I think it really does take a trust between the two groups. And when I first came into the team, there had been about two years of this sort of a not healthy relationship between the two parties. So they were being overworked, they were being…I don’t know. There wasn’t a good process between them, engineering and business. So I think that’s what led to their burnout. And then from burnout, they went and did some other things which is actually the reason that got them let go.

But at the same time, I’m very empathetic with them as well because I’ve been there, for less periods of time, and of course I wouldn’t do what they did, but at the same time, just when you get that burnout for so long, it’s really hard to stay passionate. It’s really hard to stay engaged. And that’s the kind of employee that you need working with you. So it just made sense to do it that way.

So once we did have the team, a brand new team, we really worked hard to have a better process. It was still remote, it was still difficult, but implementing everything we learned fresh and new and having people who were engaged made the world of difference.

Timi: Okay. So you mentioned two things there that sound really key. First was trust, and the second was motivation. So what do you think are the things that foster that trust and that motivation within a company culture?

John: Yeah, I think the first thing is relationship. Going out to an outing is one of those things that really feels like you’re wasting time when you do it. If you’re that person who owns the business or something, it’s probably very difficult. You’re being like, “Am I wasting all this money because I’m paying for them and they’re not working?” But those kind of relationship building things do go a long way. And I think just in the day-to-day asking each other about what’s going on outside of work.

So with remote, what I would do is research, “What’s going in their neck of the woods? What’s some news that’s happening in their city, in their country?” And then talking to them about that. Following up on something else they told me before, taking notes about that their kid is going here or there. And learning, getting to know them. That really helps build both of those things.

Then of course a good process is equally as important if not more, which it sounds funny but it really is. Because if you respect them enough to have a good process on your side because it takes discipline. People always jump from process to process and, “Oh, what if we try this method and that method?” The reason that they don’t work is because you have to be disciplined. It’s sort of the same thing with a diet or an exercise. That’s why jump from this one to that one, the new fad, is because the reason that they’re not working is you. You, as a business, on the business side, you really have to be disciplined to make any process work. So that’s something that we learned the hard way as well and started to take responsibility for. That’s when things really improved dramatically, is because if we were getting an F grade, all of a sudden we’ve upped that to at least a C or a B, that helps the overall score quite a lot.

Timi: Yes, yeah. Okay. That point about building relationships and team outings, it’s actually funny because we just did that at WhatUsersDo, my own team, the marketing team. And we made that a point to do more of that. And we went to a marketing expo recently in London. And we were all like, “Oh, my God, wow.” Here’s a funny thing, we actually got ideas while we were there. We didn’t try to have them. We weren’t thinking.

John: It’s accidental, yeah.

Timi: It’s just because I don’t know, we were just relaxed, we were just learning and being around each other. As you said, building that trust. Yeah, I can say from personal experience that’s absolutely important.

John: Yeah, especially for a remote team. I don’t know what it is. It’s hard to describe, but it’s the same feeling you get when you’ve been emailing somebody for a while, and you haven’t seen them face to face, and you just jump on a Skype call with them. And all of a sudden you feel like you know them better, you feel more comfortable, because you get what they’re about. You get that, “Oh, this is a kind person, I can just tell from their face,” or what have you. It’s like one more level above that where you actually get to meet them in person, there’s this bond or something that happens. Then you go back to your computers, but you just feel like you can imagine their face, you’ve shared some experiences with them and you can work better.

Timi: Yeah, absolutely. Okay. So now I’m going to ask you about that interesting and amazing article that really it sounds like got you started on a journey within your career and your life which is “How Bad UX Killed Jenny,” which was a story your wife told you, I believe.

John: Yes, so my wife is in nursing school, and so during one of her classes, this story was shared. And of course it’s all anonymized, so you know, the patient and whatnot. So this really came from her teacher, was passed on to me.

Timi: Okay. The thing that I found interesting about that story is whereas most of the time when we talk about the cost of bad UX, it’s always to do with conversions, or bounce rates, or things like that, business metrics. But you went the other side. To me the more important side, which is the moral argument. You could actually, even beyond the world of health care, you could look at it as even in a commercial setting, when you give a bad user experience, it can affect people beyond the financial realm. It can be stressful, it can be emotionally unpleasant. The question that was going on in my mind was which is more persuasive, the moral argument or the business one? Which one do you think in terms of getting the whole team, the whole company to go, “You know what? UX is something important. This is something we should pay attention to.”

John: Well, that’s interesting. It really does depend on the person’s values which one is more motivating. And one thing we’ve learned in life is that oftentimes money is a little bit more motivating. It’s funny how in life they’re often very often connected in a way in the long term of course, not in the short term. And in some cases, that’s not the case, but overall they’re pretty interconnected. Because researching for the book, there’s a lot of stories where this part of the interface wasn’t done well, an accident happened, and of course there’s a cost related to that. So either they got sued, they got sued and they had to redo it, or they lost a lot of business because people perceived it as either dangerous, or frustrating, or whatever. In the long term, it doesn’t pay off.

A good example of this was at a previous company I was at, the VP of marketing wanted me to introduce a dark pattern. So a dark pattern is a trick that you use an interface to trick the users into doing something that you want them to do. This particular trick was hiding the fact after the trial we were going to charge them, after this “free trial,” we were going to charge them, and we were going to charge them for the annual amount, not the monthly amount that we were showing them.

So yeah, I really felt strongly about this and I pushed back. And like I said, I was a difficult designer advocating for good design. I said, “No, this isn’t right.” But eventually it was strong-armed through. But I didn’t give up. So I went and found as much data as I could. So I talked to my friends in the customer support, because I think every designer should be friends with customer support because customer support is the other end of user testing. So you do user testing at the beginning, and then customer support as your user testing, ongoing user testing at the very end when you fail.

So they were telling me that, “Yeah, we’ve had a really big increase in calls and we’re probably going to hire X amount of people, and that has this cost, because of cancellations due to this issue.” So I had a cost and a number related to that. Like you said, dollar bills, which was his language. So I always tried to figure out, “What’s this person’s language? How can I get this idea across to them?” I also talked to the analytics team and found out, yes, okay, we did have an initial spike the first week, but it’s slowly declining. And then also talking to the customer support team again, that customer satisfaction was decreasing as well.

So presenting this all to him, these data points that he could understand, we could see that yes, okay, there was an overall increase in revenue, pat him on the back. But there’s actually a hidden cost to it. “You’ve just pushed that cost outward and it’s going to catch up with us very soon.” So it was interesting because I felt unethical that we were hiding all that and surprising people with hundreds of dollars charge all of a sudden. But at the same time, we were just moving the cost to in the future or onto our users.

Timi: So really actually you as a UX-er I suppose, you have to be aware of both, and then you have to know when to reach for which basically. Which one will carry more sway in this situation with this person?

John: Yeah, I think what’s most important is you as the designer is you need to decide what’s important to you on the ethical sense. Also again, doing research for the book, one thing that I learned was how late I am to this. This is a discussion has come up with previous designers in previous generations. And why I still really wanted to write this book is aside from some unique perspectives on it was the fact that I feel that my own generation of designers needs to be hear this. It needs to be brought up again, it needs to have some light shone on it. So I think every designer needs to decide for themselves, “What’s my line? What are some things that are really important to me on the ethical side that I’m going to advocate for throughout my career?”

Because I was talking about this with my co-host on The Design Review, and hopefully we’ll do a podcast on his soon. But what’s simply interesting is okay if you scale that back, what are some of the smaller ones, and where’s the line? Because it can be a gray area in between. So okay, you have that. Maybe on the other side you have something just like a sandwich card where you punch the cards, and they always punch the first one or two for you, that’s to make you…There’s a cognitive principle behind that which is people feel like if they have progress towards something, they want to keep going with it. They don’t want to lose the progress.

So that’s also a little bit of a push. But it’s very little, it’s very slight. So there’s this whole range of stuff. So I think each designer really needs to consider it and really think about it because we don’t. We think that many of us are new to this, and so that’s something that we think about.

Timi: Yeah, and I think as the digital world is becoming more and more vivid with VR, with all sorts of …I was listening to a Gary Vaynerchuk talk, and he was saying how he’s certain that in 20 years’ time, people will be in a virtual reality world with contact lenses, and they will 96% believe that it’s real. I don’t necessarily know if I agree with that, but what it got me thinking about was, “Wow, the designers of today have a much bigger part to play in what our world looks like than I think many people realize.” It’s not just a job like a lot of other jobs. I would even include my own job in that sense. What the designers of today create will slowly shape what the digital world of the future will look like. So it is important to think about, “Okay, what do I stand for? What do I believe? What am I willing to contribute to or not?”

John: Yeah, because I think you, and I, and everyone, we’re responsible for what we put into the world. So I really believe that. Like we always try and do our best. We try and also say, “Okay, is what I’m being given to work on something that I also want to hand off?” That’s something that can be difficult at times to make that decision.

Timi: Okay. So I’m going to ask you about your book now, which we’ve alluded to a couple a couple of times. It’s called “Tragic Design: The True Impact of Bad Design.” Can you just give us a brief summary of what it’s about and also how you think it will help anyone listening or reading this?

John: Yes, so the book has been really an interesting journey for me to explore. So it started with the story about how the young girl lost her life because the nurses were too distracted with software. That really impacted me when I learned that story because as a designer, I believe in the potential of technology. So hearing that it was a cause, not a thing that’s contributing to less errors was really frustrating and really impactful to hear.

So that also got me on the path of, “Okay, what are some of the areas in our lives where bad design has a real cost?” outside of just metrics and things like you said. So what I came up with was a few different types of areas. So there is the physical harm like in that case, or the case of maybe a plane crashing. There can also be emotional harm. Someone who didn’t want to share about maybe their age to their friends and family but Facebook makes them accidentally share that information. It’s very confusing. So that causes some strife in their life. Also maybe some general inequality because of the way that copywriting is done, or the image selection and things like that.

And then there’s exclusion. So elderly people are often excluded from a lot of technology simply because they’re maybe not legible enough or the put-ins [SP] are super, super small. Things like that can be really simple but can exclude a certain portion of the population. Of course it’s also accessibility in general.

Then the last thing was injustice. So I say all of the previous things were injustice, but things like…And this is one that I like because everybody always nods in agreement. But if you get a parking ticket and you had parked, you read the signs, you tried your very best to understand, “What the heck are they talking about? Can I park here or not? Do I have to pay or not? Is it two hours now, or only on Fridays, or every other Thursday, or on a school day. I have no idea, but I think I understood and I can park here.”

And you leave and you come back and you have a ticket, and you’re like, “But I had the money. I was trying to understand. I put towards the effort, I just couldn’t understand what you were trying telling me.” To me that’s injustice is when you have somebody who either wants to do well or deserves something and doesn’t get that. And that’s really injustice.

So we kind of explored these areas, and then I try and end the book on a positive note about what you can do about it as a designer, and what people are already doing about it. That’s the encouraging part is there’s some really awesome groups out there tackling these very things. And of course how you can get involved in those groups as well.

Timi: Okay. That actually again segues nicely into the next thing I was going to ask you, because you have two sections in the book. One called “What Designers Can Do or Must Do,” and the second one is called “What We All Can Do.” So I just wanted to ask if you could pick that one practical piece of advice that you could give to any UX professional about how to get their non-UX colleagues on the UX train, so to speak, convinced and contributing towards a good user experience. What would you say that is?

John: Yeah, I think if I had to pick one thing, it would be be difficult, advocate for good design at every step of the point, and as people try and push you or pull you and make you to…Strong-arm you to do what they want you to do, just be difficult. And part of that is giving your case and giving a really good case. So finding whatever you can with resources like I did and finding data, finding what language they speak. It’s all part of it, but in the end, you really just need to be someone who they know, “Okay, oh, we’re never going to get this past Jonathan. We’re never going to get this past…” It’s funny how you feel like you’re being worn down, but trust me, they’re getting worn down too, and you’re going to win this. So don’t worry.

Timi: Good point. But I suppose that also when you say, “You should be difficult,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be disagreeable. It just means you should be committed to what you believe in and to present that [inaudible 00:26:50].

John: Yeah. That’s a great point. Sorry, I just got excited. That’s a great point that you’re saying because there’s a line between the two. And really the line is defined as whether or not you’re attacking them or you’re attacking the idea. And also whether or not you’re coming up with solutions or you’re not. And also I think I would add to that that you’re backing it up with solid reasons. I think those three things are super important to distinguish between whether or not you’re just being a jerk0 and just a troublemaker, or you’re actually being someone who is advocating for something, and hopefully effective.

Timi: Yeah, that’s perfect response to that. So I just have one more, I’m calling it a bonus question because it’s just something when I was discussing, because I told everyone. I told the CEO and the founder about this interview and they got excited. So we’re talking about just the whole idea. And we arrived at a point which is sometimes good UX can lead to harm in the sense that for example, if you design an excellent website for a tobacco company for example. Now we’re getting into ethics, that leads to more people smoking, smoking causes harm, etc. So it’s basically the same rationale behind…I don’t know about America, but certainly in the UK, adverts for cigarettes have been banned. So you can’t advertise them anymore. So in that sort of scenario, do you think that the responsibility or any responsibility falls on the UX professional? Is it just a case of, “My job is UX, and then that’s not my job to worry about the ethics and the morals of the world”?

John: Yeah, I think on a specific level, it can be difficult to say, but I think on a personal level, on a design, each designer on their own, I think it’s something that again, you have to decide. It’s something you have to decide because it’s really easy to say, “Oh, well, it’s just a job,” to make excuses for yourself. Like you said like, “Okay, well, if I don’t get this job, someone else is going to get this job, and I need a job anyway. It’s just a tobacco company, they’re not going to go out of business because I don’t design for them.” So you have to decide for yourself whether or not this is something that ethically is something that you would want to do, because it really does define you, a designer, what you’re putting into the world. So I think we should all take responsibility for that.

But there is some very tricky conversations, like one that really interested me that came up a while ago was people talking about the AK-47. It is a beautifully designed piece of equipment. And some people say, “No, it’s badly designed because it kills people,” but in its purpose, it’s designed very well.

Then we got down to the discussion of, okay, but the person who designed it actually thought they were being somewhat ethical because they were saying…They built it for their army and, “Oh, this is going to help us win the war, and end the war quickly, and save lives on our side,” or what have you. So it can be very tricky to navigate these things. So if you’re a designer and you’re asked to design a gun, you have to know that, “No, this is not something that I believe in,” even though you could make a case for it in your mind. That’s something that you have to really decide. So it’s a tricky thing. So I think it’s worth the discussion and it’s worth each designer really taking some deep consideration on because if we don’t think about it. We’re just going to, you know, blindly walk through it.

Timi: Yes, I agree. OK, so those are all the questions from me, Jonathan. Thank you very much for being the first in our series of real-life stories. I think it was the perfect one to start it with and being someone who’s a fan of the article you wrote and just in general – your podcast and everything else I’ve checked out leading up to this interview. I can’t wait till the book is released in print, so let us know when it does. And for anyone who’s interested in finding out more, we’ll leave a link in the post as well, so they can check it out. And yeah, thanks for joining us from Silicon Valley.

Forget what you can gain from UX – focus on what is lost when you ignore it

When I asked Jonathan about why he wrote his book, Tragic Design, he explained:

“So it started with the story about how the young girl lost her life because the nurses were too distracted with software. That really impacted me because as a designer, I believe in the potential of technology. So hearing that it was a cause, not a thing that’s contributing to fewer errors, was really frustrating and impactful.”

He’s talking about “Jenny”, who wasn’t hydrated properly during chemo because the hospital software was poorly designed and confusing to nurses.

But Jenny is no exception – bad design has been blamed for plane crashes and Ebola patients slipping through the net.

A UI design error is thought to be the primary factor in the crash of Air Inter Flight 148 in 1992

Jonathan explains during our chat, “…doing research for the book, one thing that I learned was how late I am to this. This is a discussion that has come up with previous designers in previous generations.”

I’ll go back to my earlier statement that UX is like statutory law or food standards. It’s not something you pay attention to if you have spare time and money.

UX is a matter of being socially responsible because, as Jonathan and I concurred, “designers are literally shaping our world and how it works”.

To illustrate, companies will spend huge amounts on legal due diligence, even though that makes them no money directly. Restaurants will invest heavily in making sure they pass hygiene tests, even though the evaluating bodies aren’t their customers.

Even though a thorough legal policy and great hygiene rating can encourage more customers to buy, that’s not the primary reason why companies invest in these things.

They invest because ignoring these things can have serious consequences for employees and customers – financial liability or illness. In turn, financial liability and illness can stop commerce dead in its tracks.

Even businesses that don’t truly care about these things pay attention to them because they believe in the cost of ignorance.

The human implications connected with our decision to improve or ignore UX

Even if we take several steps back from the worlds of plane crashes and Ebola patients, things like bounce rates and conversions have human implications too.

We recently released a case study covering our work with Brook, a sexual health charity for young people.

Brook wanted to make it easier for people to find its clinics and sexual health information. You could see that as an attempt to increase conversions… or you could see it from the user’s point of view.

Imagine there’s a 15 year old boy from a small village and he’s terrified he might have caught an STD. He has no idea what to do. He believes he can’t talk to his parents because they’ll be furious.

Imagine he goes to the Brook website looking for help and he finds it… or maybe he doesn’t. Do you think the cost of bad UX for him has anything to do with conversions?

“The ultimate consequences of good and bad UX stretch far beyond the business realm  – which is (ironically) why UX can have such a dramatic effect on business metrics.”

The cost of bad UX would be keeping quiet (because it all looks too complicated) and living with a symptomless disease that compromises his long-term reproductive health.

Thankfully, Brook is socially responsible and doesn’t ignore its users’ experiences.

Even common UX considerations are often tied to some kind of social responsibility:

  • Did that dark pattern which led to unexpected recurring charges help increase sales? Or did it stop a few people from being able to afford a family day out?

It’s opportunity cost in action  – if people are spending money on your thing, they’re probably not spending it on something else (especially if there’s a trick involved).

The ultimate consequences of good and bad UX stretch far beyond the business realm  – which is (ironically) why UX can have such a dramatic effect on business metrics.

The ultimate consequences can have a much more influential effect than the user experience itself.

Root causes of human suffering due to bad UX… and how to fix them

Being unaware of users as human beings leads to bad UX. This is usually a consequence of teams or companies that are either ignorant to or just don’t care.

But you still need to get people who aren’t interested in UX to pay attention to it.  Jonathan puts it excellently:

“…there’s another article I wrote reviewing what I had learned as the product director at Therapydia, because that was totally new to me. The title of it was, ‘You Can’t Fix the UX without Fixing Everything.’ And that’s one of the biggest lessons I learned – if I really wanted to make an impact, I couldn’t just stay in my design world. I had to step into that role and affect the whole company as much as I could.”

So, is a moral or business argument more compelling, when you’re trying to move colleagues from a state of ignorance or apathy? The answer is to adapt.

Use a combination of business and moral arguments to persuade colleagues

Jonathan explained practical ways of getting colleagues aboard the UX train:

“At a previous company, the VP of marketing wanted me to introduce a dark pattern. This particular trick was hiding the fact that after the trial, we were going to charge them – for the annual amount, not the monthly amount that we were showing. I really felt strongly about this and I pushed back.”

Rather than try to persuade the VP of marketing using arguments he wouldn’t care about, Jonathan “talked to friends in customer support”.

Jonathan thinks every designer should be friends with customer support because customer support is the other end of user testing”. It’s where you can see the ultimate consequences of design decisions – a kind of ongoing user testing.

Jonathan learned there’d been a really big increase in calls and cancellations due to this dark pattern. The customer support team was considering hiring more people just to deal with the backlash.

Now, Jonathan had a cost and numerical value. He explained, “I always tried to figure out, ‘What’s this person’s language? How can I get this idea across to them?’ I also talked to the analytics team and found out we did have an initial spike in the first week, but it was slowly declining.”

every designer should be friends with customer support because customer support is the other end of user testing”

It became clear that hurting people was quickly starting to hurt the business metrics too.

3 ways to foster a user-centred culture within the whole company

Jonathan and I talked about practical steps one can take to build a user-centred culture and 3 stood out to me:

  • Communication
  • Trust
  • Being difficult

Regarding communication, Jonathan said:

“I think it is really important that… you’re constantly rubbing off on others. So, you’re getting them excited about what you do, and you’re teaching them about the way you’re doing things – the ‘why’ behind what you’re doing. Through that, they gain an appreciation for what you do and that working relationship has less friction.”

Regarding trust, Jonathan said:

“I think it really does take a trust between the two groups… I think the first thing is the relationship. Going out to an outing is one of those things that really feels like you’re wasting time when you do it. If you’re that person who owns the business or something, it’s probably very difficult. You’re being like, ‘Am I wasting all this money because I’m paying for them and they’re not working?’ But those kinds of relationship building things do go a long way.”

Jonathan says if he could pick one piece of advice to give UX professionals, it would be this – “be difficult”. He explains: 

“…advocate for good design at every step… and as people try and push you, or pull you and… strong-arm you to do what they want you to do, just be difficult.”

To borrow a writing aphorism, “A difficult designer makes for an easy user experience.”