Are businesses willing to place UX design in a leadership role?

That depends on our ability as UX design leaders to clearly articulate the impact design has on business. In order for UX leaders to succeed in this environment we must first come to terms with the fact that design is not the center of the corporate universe. This is why it’s integral to educate the C-suite on it’s importance in order to ensure that UX and design are recognized as key pillars of business success and overall strategy. So, how do we do this?

We can gain a seat at the table if we are willing to peel off layers of UX-jargon and design-speak in order to clearly communicate the problems we solve for the business using the language of the organization. Here are some key approaches that will help UX design leaders get involved in the business conversation and earn a seat at the table.

What is the market saying?

According to the Design Value Index by the Design Management Institute (DMI), “Design-driven companies outperform the S&P 500 by 219%.”

In a similar manner, Forrester’s Customer Experience Index (CXi) indicates that “better experience = higher revenue.” In their research, they quantify the impact of yearly revenue ranges between $177M to $311M for repurchase, retention and recommendation when the customer experience is positive.

Show empathy to the people we work with, not just the people we design for

As UX design leaders, we need to listen and understand what the CMO, CPO and CIO’s pain points are. Try asking them “What keeps you up at night?”

You might be surprised by the wealth of information that you will learn from the conversation. We need to alleviate their concerns and whenever possible align the outcome of UX activities and strategy to help resolve those pain points.

Change the design conversation from a tactical level to a strategic level

Depending on the design maturity level in the organization, the conversation needs to shift from “designing a product feature,” or “running a UX research study with customers” to discussing the business impact of design.

For example, in enterprise systems, we need to articulate how design is helping reduce the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), by measuring increased adoption and engagement. In a recent project, we reduced manual entry by almost half, and server round trips by two thirds. The result of our work increased user engagement and directly impacted revenue.

Show big wins with clear, quantifiable business metrics

Do you have any idea how much abandoned shopping carts are costing your company in revenue? Jared Spool wrote “The $300 Million Button” and followed that up with “The Back Story for the $300 Million Button” where he leveraged user research and data analytics to help executives understand the extent of this problem and show how a simple design change in the checkout process can have a huge, clear and measurable impact on your business.

This is why it’s integral for UX designers to be able to highlight design variables and show executives how UX and business metrics change between iterations.

For example, a few years ago I lead the redesign of multiple products into a single, integrated product suite. One of the primary tasks was the creation of an integrated information architecture to reduce redundancies between the product modules and help us identify key areas for consolidation. The new product suite improved our sales conversion rate by 300% year over year and we were able to look towards the changes in taxonomy as a way to measure our success.

Probably the most important lesson we learned was that integration is table stakes, while customer and user experience are critical to be invited to the negotiating table.

Position UX as a critical component in your company’s overall strategy

It is very important that UX teams understand what the business strategy is and how our work impacts that strategy. Aligning our tasks, our goals, our projects, and our outcomes to the organization’s strategy is critical. Everyone has a role to play and they need to know what that role is in context of the customer experience vision and strategy.

Design leaders need to make sure that everyone in the organization, from the C-Suite down, understands the vision and that UX is fundamental to the company’s future success.

Collaborating and communicating with multidisciplinary teams produces better results

UX leaders must welcome diverse perspectives and collaborate in the implementation of the UX strategy. Multidisciplinary teams include business leaders, product owners, developers and designers as partners in the process. We should favor transparency and inclusion over isolation in our organizational culture in order to unite engineering, business and design.

Embracing diversity of thinking and cross functional perspectives, positions our teams to create innovative, disruptive solutions and deliver stronger results.

Drive a “big bang” design culture transformation

In a recent panel, Kirsten Wolberg, VP of Talent at PayPal said that customer driven innovation is critical in a successful transformation program. She added that a “big bang” approach to transformation is critical for success. It will force change, since it will either drive success or get you fired. Her perspective is spot-on and it should be a lesson for UX design leaders.

For us to create a design-driven culture, we must be willing to put everything on the line. We must become agile in our way of thinking and create a sense of urgency when our organizations are facing business, competitive and customer pressure that may threaten our own existence. A successful design culture transformation does not leave any team behind, nor does it create silos. We have to collaborate with leaders across the organization to assess the skills, capabilities and interdependencies to ensure culture alignment.

Define design metrics and KPIs as part of the performance and compensation program

In her book Radical Focus, Christina Wodtke discusses the importance of aligning company level OKRs (objectives and key results) and how each team should “determine how their own OKRs contribute to the company’s successful OKR.”

At the inception of a design culture transformation program, basic behavior metrics are critical. Beyond that point, KPIs should focus on business outcomes.

Increasing customer exposure is imperative to the organization’s success

Customer exposure is critical for teams to create and deliver awesome user experience. Showing the impact our work has on the people we are design, coding, and building products for augments our awareness and empathy for them.

As an organization, we enhance our abilities by learning from our customers, testing our hypotheses, validating our assumptions, iterating and adjusting course or pivoting entirely. Creating a culture and an environment for continuous learning and experimentation, and where we minimize risk for doing so, is to the benefit of the C-Suite, the shareholders, investors, and the employees.

Conclusion

As UX design leaders we must be poised to drive a design culture transformation within our organizations. We should be assertive in our interaction with other business leaders and create trusting partnerships that drive results. We will earn and maintain a seat at the leadership table when we speak the business language and demonstrate the strategic importance of UX design in the success of the organization.