UX Power Up: 5 Characteristics of a Strong Culture of UX

In this week’s UX Power Up, Frank covers the insanely important topic of UX maturity and what it takes to build a strong culture of UX.

Transcript below…

Hi Frank Spillers here, founder of Experience Dynamics and it’s time for this week’s UX Power Up. Today’s topic is the culture of UX. Now many organizations are building up teams, they are ramping up on their UX efforts, they are staffing up positions and doing more and more user research and usability studies- all good stuff! The underlying aspect of any organizational effort like that is culture building.So just like organizations 5-6 years ago were ramping up with Agile or moving into Lean UX practices, UX requires the same type of cultural shift. So one of the first things in my definition of Culture of UX that’s important is user contact. This is the defining hallmark characteristic of organizations with a user experience maturity. Basically allowing your teams to make contact with users. How else can they do user experience research, how else can they do advocacy without actually being given access to their users?

Now some industries such as financial services and certain aspects of eg healthcare and others have historically been difficult to have access to your users, but I’ve worked in all of these industries over the years and I’ve worked with organizations where somehow it is easy and in others somehow it is not easy—and I find in the organizations where it’s not easy it’s like there’s a belief “we can’t talk to our users!” or senior management will say “oh no we can’t talk to users- that’s definitely out!”, especially with products with $200-$300K price tag for a piece of software…”We don’t want to jeopardize our sales or customer relationship by actually talking to our users!” So that’s the fear based approach which doesn’t build very good culture in any type of leadership or successful venture. It’s really important that user contact is allowed and fostered and nurtured in building organizations.

The second one here is staffed positions- well, okay staffed positions could have guessed that one right?! Actually having internal folks and the key here is qualified staff. It’s not enough to grab your designer and turn them into the UX person in the organization.
Now many organizations will do that or grab a developer, maybe take a business analyst and turn them into a UX person- that’s all fine and well– one of the things I have run across however, is that there’s a credibility or believability gap that often is left, and so certain teams working with that individual will say “oh well you’re not really a usability expert so…” which is more of a Cognitive Science/ Psychology type of background in terms of the field of study/ qualifications. So it’s really important that when staffing, you actually staff with people that can communicate believably and that can communicate effectively- because that’s really half the battle with working with user experience advocacy in an organization.

The third key here is training. So offering training to your staff, having them all kind of on the same page, having them all getting the latest and greatest information, resources and tools available to them– we do a lot of specialized user experience trainings with organizations especially ones that are ramping up…it’s just a tremendous leap from a disorganized herding cats situation to “wow, all of sudden we’re aligned and on the same page after a day or two of training”. So training can be a very powerful catalyst.

The fourth one here is funded projects. Funded projects are another hallmark that you can’t really do UX on the side–you can’t really do UX informally, or as part of another job. I’ve worked in large organizations where there isn’t really a UX culture there and so some poor product managers are also the UX guy, or some poor business analyst- she’s also the UX specialist and kind of doing it on the side in addition to her other jobs. That’s a really tough position. It’s really important that there’s funding available, that a project can actually resources- and that means using outside consultants, that means putting people in the organization, giving them real budgets that they can do this kind of work. There have been studies done on this and the question that is usually asked to me is how much of my budget should be budgeted- the magic number is between 10-12% of a product development budget should be spent on UX for that particular project. So take your entire dev budget around 11.5% is a statistic that one study found- so the rule of thumb is 10-12% of your product development budget for that product.

Now the final cultural characteristic of UX is ROI and buy-in. So the return on investment, the measurement of your efforts, the ability to show value in your organization and have that value shown to leadership. The organizations that are excelling in this field today among Fortune 500 companies are the ones where the executive buy-in is there and usually organically there where you Brin or Page (Google) or these founders of companies will bring an organic love of UX to the teams that they create, but it’s also grassroots– you need your engineers and developers to be bought-in. I worked with a start-up where one of the developers (the CEO was bought in), but the developer said “I’m not making that change to the interface”, and I said “Why not?” and he said “Cause I don’t like it!” and I said “yea but the usability test report showed that the users need that and he said I don’t care- it’s not something I agree with!” So even though the CEO was a real evangelist of UX and was spending money on it, the developer was not willing to budge.

So having that organic grassroots, that love of users at the engineering level, which historically hasn’t been there- that’s a new thing that’s occurred- is equally important. So building a culture of UX has these 5 hallmarks and characteristics which I think are all hugely important and it’s definitely a process but I hope this helps with first steps in building your UX maturity and competency in your organization. Happy UXing, see you on a future UX Power Up!

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