Part 1- Managing Outside-In Design orgs

Summary: Outside-In design organizations live and breathe user experience. The main differentiator between a technology-driven organization and a Human-Centered design approach is in decision-making. With Outside-In design, business and technology decisions are gathered, validated, measured, and infused into the Sales, Marketing, Business, and Technology fabric. This post (in 2 parts) explores those key organizational behaviors we’ve discovered and worked with for over 15 years. We’ve included to-do items for managers to action these insights. 

PART 1: (1-6)

1. Gather Evidence and Data

Why it is important: Evidence based design means that opinions are grounded in customer insights, specifically behavior captured and interpreted by trained UX professionals. Data informs design. Whether conversion optimization or efficiency improvement, you can no longer run on assumption.

Manager to-do item: Start building a data pipeline based on user behavior (think usability research, not market research). Build a research team or outsource it.

2. Validate with Users

Why it is important:  Design concepts (before they are sketched or PhotoShopped) need validation based on user goals, tasks, habits, and expectations. The whole point of Human Centered Design is to align a UI with a user’s mental processes, constraints, and behaviors. 

Manager to-do item: Start questioning the source of a design idea. Is it being creatively dreamt up, or is it coming from a tangible “day in the life” customer insight?

3. Test UI Assumptions 

Why it is important:  Forget design “war room” debates or political in-fighting; that’s so Inside-Out it will make your head spin. Instead, get users to use the interface and watch what they do. 

Manager to-do item: Start a program or throttle an existing “small bites” effort into regular and consistent usability testing. Usability testing should be as regular as clockwork, and should cascade into Sprint and Backlog planning in Agile or Lean organizations. 

4. Think like your Users

Why it is important:  All of UX involves user advocacy. Instead of thinking on behalf of brand, technology, or business… think how a customer would approach the challenge your design helps them solve. Most problems are created by insiders (that’s you!) who know too much (about the inside). 

Manager to-do item: Give your team access to your users, regardless of your industry. There is no excuse for accessing difficult users (yes, that’s you, Financial industry, Healthcare or “C suite” level users). Get help from UX professionals if you need to guarantee successful interactions. 

5. Factor user needs at key decision points

Why it is important:  User needs are often omitted from business and technology decisions. User journey mapping, personas, and other tools of user research can help inform decisions ‘just in time’. 

Manager to-do item: Make sure teams utilize field studies, a key UX technique to ensure user needs are being injected into conversations. Putting a UX person into business and development (Sprint meetings) can help. Make sure their role is clearly defined and respected by the team so they are not a neutral opinion. Note: UX is not neutral- it’s advocacy-driven, which means it has an agenda (that should only intend to help the bottom line).  

6. Reference user habits, behavior, and needs

Why it is important:  Culture comes from referencing users in conversations. This is where evidence-based design, user validation, and thinking like your users come together. 

Manager to-do item: Ask team members where their assumptions come from or how they relate to a problem a user is trying to solve. In short, ask, “What is the user’s task here?”, “What problem is the user trying to solve?”. Encourage teams to ground their solutions on user probabilities and not engineering or marketing possibilities. Ask, “What’s the probability the user will do this or need this?” (that alone can bring a feature-oriented debate or edge case discussion to a standstill). 

Enjoy the read? In Part 2 we continue with more tips on running an Outside-In Design organization…

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