How making UX more visible can save you a whole lot of effort | by Kai Wong | Nov, 2021

Visibility of System Status improves design and also decision making

Photo by Tobias Cornille on Unsplash

The most persuasive argument I ever gave for UX research was a piece of paper pinned to the hallway next to my office. I had created an organizational map to understand how the organization grouped different teams and had stuck it to the wall on a whim.

But because of that, people stopped by to study the chart and asked me many questions about UX, User Research, and more. As a result, I probably had more conversations with various members of internal teams than if I had sent out a company-wide e-mail.

This made me think about the visibility of user research.

How Visibility of System Status extends beyond screens

A man is standing next to a directory, where several screens are. A large orange pin is stuck in one of the screens, which shows exactly where the person is.

Visibility of system status is the first Usability Heuristic of User Interface Design, coined by Jakob Nielsen.

The heuristic states that the design should always keep users informed about what is going on through appropriate feedback within a reasonable amount of time. But this heuristic can relate to much more than just UI design. At its core, it’s about communication and transparency.

The more information we have, the better our decision-making is.

In addition, knowing the system’s current state helps us assess where we are and if we need to change anything to reach our goals. So let’s take that logic and apply it to the ‘system’ known as your organization. So how visible is UX in your organization? Are you hidden in a corner, or are you visible to others to evaluate as a method of reaching their goals?

This matters more than you think.

The visibility of UX Design and Research

Despite UX being around for decades, along with successful case studies and UX advocates, you still may work with people who know little about what UX does. Worse yet, you might work with people who have a mistaken impression of what UX does.

Few things are as hard to deal with as the lifelong employee, who was around before “graphic design re-branded itself as UX” (his words, not mine). While you can spend your time trying to convince your team through lots of time and effort, often, you’re not starting from scratch. The visibility of UX in your organization provides 2 or 3 common viewpoints your team members may have.

UX designs screens: One of the most visible and visual things that people see UX professionals doing is creating screens, prototypes, and more. While this is true, if the team thinks this is all you do, it can cause many misunderstandings (and the quote mentioned above). Fortunately, this viewpoint is commonly paired with another.

UX tests with users: User testing is another big part of our job, and fortunately, one that is pretty visible. From recruiting, testing, facilitating, and analyzing, there are many ways for stakeholders to hear about, if not directly observe or interact, with user testing. If most people in your organization have this takeaway, you might not have issues getting people on board with users. However, the last section is where you may run into problems.

UX does user research: If people aren’t 100% familiar with UX, then this is where people may struggle. You might think that user research goes hand in hand with user testing, but there’s one major problem that user research faces:

Research is localized, while the design is organization-wide.

The different reach of UX Design and UX Research

One thing that UX Design makes use of is that visuals are quicker than words.

Sketching out a proposed design when team members argue over specific wording can resolve issues or map out what you are looking for.

The problem is that user research tends not to be conveyed in that manner. Design exists as visuals like screens and prototypes, easily visible, shareable, and immediate. On the other hand, research lives as Powerpoint presentations, usability reports, and other things that aren’t as easily shareable. This may suit your projects, but it might not travel as far and wide as Design prototypes.

So how does it result in problems? First, if people aren’t aware of the type of user research UX does, then we might not get invited to specific crucial meetings or advocate for users early on. For example, businesses might develop a list of feature requirements strictly from a business view without ever considering features that the user might need.

I’ve had to fight to get into specific meetings where stakeholders made significant assumptions about our users.

The excuse for not being invited relates to the misconceptions people have about UX:

“We’re not at the screen design phase, and there’s nothing to test, so you don’t need to be part of this meeting.”

While there will always be some struggle, constantly fighting to be a part of these meetings is exhausting. The better approach is to make UX (and user research) more visible to your team so that they consider you.

Doing so usually involves two things:

  1. Making UX Research more visible to the larger organization through design artifacts.
  2. Providing an open communication channel to the UX team.

User research findings don’t have to be boring.

While user research sometimes involves Powerpoints and usability reports, user research doesn’t have to be boring. Brief research summaries, along with design artifacts created through user research, are often great ways to engage your organization. In addition, things like journey maps, personas, or organizational charts can be easy to share, view, or otherwise printed in the hallway and looked at. So here are a few suggestions on how to make your user research more visible:

Create research summaries and publish them in the company newsletter/create a quarterly UX Newsletter:

If the company has an internal newsletter, this can be a great place to advertise the research results or interesting findings you learned along the way.

Newsletters are often looking for additional material, which is where you can come in. Learning to write short research summaries can help inform audiences of what you’re doing, and it’s a great skill to have in your toolkit.

Send out visualizations, metrics, or other things of interest to hands-on operators:

Another technique is to send quantitative metrics, sentiment analysis, or open feedback from your users to your team around one or more products.

You should first target product management and perhaps engineering teams to present to and see how they react.

The results may surprise or motivate them. Then, you can introduce that more widely to get many people thinking about usability at once.

Keep an open real-time communication channel (with design artifacts visible):

For many people, pinning a piece of paper to the wall in a hallway isn’t a viable strategy, as many people might work remotely.

This is where you want to use any real-time communication channels, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, to provide an easy next step. If people want to talk more, having one location to ask questions, browse design artifacts or more is practical.

However, people may want to browse and look at the design artifacts as well. In that case, it might be helpful to set up a bot (or something similar) so that people can browse the design artifacts to see if anything is interesting.

If you’re back at the office, you also may want to consider figuring out some hallway space you can pin something on, as well as a design artifact that might be interesting to multiple internal teams.

Some examples of things that might pique user interest include:

  • Organizational maps (How different teams are grouped)
  • Journey maps (The process users go through with experiences and touchpoints in a broad sense)
  • Experience maps (The Experiences and touchpoints across a specific experience)
  • Ideation (Going from paper prototype to wireframe to high fidelity prototype)
  • User quotes

Making UX more visible raises all boats

Let me be clear. I’m not advocating that UX seeks attention, especially when our job involves collaborating with both users and stakeholders.

But providing a greater awareness of user research and making sure that we’re not known as the ‘design screen/prototype guys’ can often be incredibly helpful in making our lives easier.

It’s one thing to convince your stakeholders of the importance of user research to understand users, test prototypes with them, and develop design recommendations.

It’s a much easier (and more interesting) journey when stakeholders stop by your office, see the value of UX, and then approach you for your advice, testing, and more.

Having that sort of impact builds relationships and UX advocates without the pressure of trying to persuade people.

Kai Wong is a UX Specialist, Author, and Data Visualization advocate. His latest book, Data Persuasion, talks about learning Data Visualization from a Designer’s perspective and how UX can benefit Data Visualization.

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