By Frank Spillers

UX design must be outside in

Outside-In Design means you are making design and business decisions, not from your organizational culture, but from your customers. Companies that rely on the confidence of their internal  business, design and development teams are typically low in empathy and high on assumptions. In this post we shall explore more deeply the structure of an Outside-In approach pertaining to user experience (UX) and business. To get more on this topic, check out our webinar: Building a UX Culture to Rival Apple

The Danger of Inside-Out

Inside-Out organizations believe their sales team and customer support team will save them. They also believe that good UX Design comes from the creative and pragmatic prowess of their designers and engineers. This is the biggest business mistake, the anti-thesis of using design as a business tool. It's also very last century. In today's competitive landscape, to really benefit from user experience excellence, requires new rules, smarter teams and better design decision makers. 

What Outside-In organizations are showing us, is that true innovation in User Experience is coming from "Getting Outside the Building" aka GOOB (per Steve Blank one of the founders of the Design Thinking approach). Empathy has gone from a touchy-feely abstraction to a pragmatic design tool. Teams that are allowed and encouraged to make contact with their end-users are by far smarter when it comes to wireframe time. Study Interaction Design and you quickly realize all good UX design starts with User Research, or "walk in my shoes" studies. 

As I noted in a previous post about Apple's UX culture:

The secret of Apple's design process is in their UX maturity as an organization. Building and growing your UX culture is the most strategic thing your company can do.

"It's actually the engineering culture, and the way the organization is structured to appreciate and support design. Everybody there is thinking about UX and design, not just the designers. And that's what makes everything about the product so much better . . . much more than any individual designer or design team." -Mark Kawano (interview in Fast Company)

Origins and intentions of Outside-In design

Outside-In design manifests from a strong user advocacy approach gained from practicing User Centered Design (UCD). User centered design involves a set of techniques and practices for software development that involve the user at each critical stage of the design. This starts at the beginning through needs analysis (extracting empathy), through advocacy with personas and empathy maps during wireframing (applying empathy) and at the end of design through user testing (validating empathy). The idea is to get out of your assumptions as quickly as possible and to stay there. Why? Because when you know too much about business rules or technology limitations or requirements, you loose the obsessive focus on the customer required for good UX. 

Around 2005, IBM changed their UCD group name to the "Outside-In Design" group. I understood this to be a re-branding but later realized they were trying to commit their developer-centric organization to a business mission. They were trying to impact a shift in how they do business. They even have a book with the same name. IBM's Outside-In development approach focuses on stakeholder-centric design. The stakeholders include principals, partners, insiders and end-users. At Experience Dynamics we hold the highest value in the last set of stakeholders. Why? Because under the hood, Outside-In development is really just good Agile methodology. Even Agile places the customer beside the product owner, with the intention to include customers in product decision-making. But how many organizations really base user stories on real world user scenarios? How many product owners in Scrum actually make time for proper user testing or user research? The answer is not that many or very few. How many listen to the needs of internal stakeholders? The answer is many or most. 

This means the only stakeholder an Outside-In org needs to give additional time and energy to is the end-user. Obsessing over end-users is not a creative burst of inspiration that comes from your UX Designer pouring over PhotoShop. Instead it's a calculated, funded, supported and strategic business decision. It's about supporting a Culture of UX so that the goal, (to be outside-in) can actually manifest.

Managers, Directors and Executives need to understand that design and Design Thinking is a transformational tool that can increase the bottom line. The ROI of UX is proven (see Infographic). How Design Thinking is accomplished is by employing consistent User Centered Design.  

Toward Outside-In 

In interactive media (Web and Mobile) it's not "The customer is always right", instead it ought to be:

"The customer's behavior (eg conversion) is an indicator of how successful we have been, and how well our user interface (UI) has served our business goal".

Success is defined in UX terms as how well you impacted user behavior. That behavior is based on their goals, needs and the intuitiveness of the UI. With an Outside-In approach we are trying to get beyond paying lip service to customer-centric business...or worse, defining UX Design without including the U (the user!) in that process.  

Your first step should be rebalancing end-user involvement. What does this mean? Every large redesign or new product should involve a field study. Every single design that's released or launched should include usability testing. With Agile or Lean UX, user feedback should be surrounding the development and design team on at least a bi-monthly basis. The goals of your UX effort should be clearly defined. Your business team and development teams should be aligned in timing, intention and power-sharing with your UX team- so that the proper influence and data-sharing (eg. empathy or innovations identified from user visits) are streamed directly into the heart of your organization. 

We'll discuss this and more on the webinar: Building a UX Culture to Rival Apple. Meanwhile, what have been some of your challenges to building UX culture and Outside-In? (Comments below please!)