On leading a new kind of UX workshop

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Written by: Ramy Nassar – Managing Director at Design + Technology firm Architech, based in Toronto, Canada.


The beautiful city of Graz, Austria where the conference took place

On an ordinary Monday, in a conference room in Austria, a group of forward-thinking designers and usability specialists gathered for a full day workshop on the art and science of getting buy-in for UX design.

I was asked by the World Usability Congress team to lead this workshop. We brought together exercises and case studies ranging from persuasion skills to executive presentations; from sales strategies to negotiation tactics. The result was nothing short of inspiring!

I’d like to share three of the key learnings that I hope the group took away from the workshop.

A refresher on empathy

Design and UX design in particular, is deeply rooted in user empathy. So why is it that designers so often forget that internal & external stakeholders are people too? Whether it’s a client or an internal project executive, it’s important to apply the same principles of empathy and understanding when seeking buy-in or approval for UX design.

Using a fantastic set of toys designed by Canadian social entrepreneur Ilana Ben-Ari, we ran through a range of exercises intended to remind participants that every person involved with a project has certain goals that she or he is trying to accomplish. The Empathy Toy was created to leverage play as a tool for discovering (or rediscovering) empathy.

Only by understanding what every stakeholder considers a successful outcome will it be possible to get agreement on design decisions.

The Empathy Toy, seen in use above, was developed by Twenty One Toys in Toronto.

The Empathy Toy, seen in use above, was developed by Twenty One Toys in Toronto.

Structured model for presenting designs

While there are a broad range of techniques for presenting design work and seeking agreement, very few designers use a structured approach.

Leveraging a methodology proposed by Tom Greever, author of Articulating Design Decisions, participants worked through a real-world design project, where small groups were challenged to “pitch” project executives for additional investment into the design process.

A major component of this structured approach can be summarized by the acronym IDEAL, which helps practitioners remember how to structure their communications plan.

I — identify the problem — ensure agreement from all parties on what the problem really is

D — define the solution

E — empathize — not just with end users, but with all project stakeholders

A — appeal to the business — connect your design decisions with project success metrics

L — lock in agreement — save time to present and agree upon next steps and accountability

The final two steps are often overlooked, because as designers, we’re not always taught the importance of business context. In the world of sales, the final step would be called closing the deal, and is what separates great salespeople from merely good ones.

Executive presentations

Presenting your work to a group of executive stakeholders needs to be done differently than a design review or sprint demo.

We began this part of the workshop with a refresher on Myers Briggs Personality Types. In particular, looking at the Sensing and Intuitive approaches to gathering data. Business executives are disproportionally represented by intuition-based data gatherers.

As a result, when presenting to intuitors, rather than sensors, it’s important to focus on the big picture and the meaning behind the design. Avoiding details and focusing on the future impact of your work to the organization helps get agreement from executives and decision-makers.

We wrapped the workshop with a set of executive presentations in which team members used the culmination of the skills developed through the day.

Wrapping up

As much as was learned from the exercises, participants were rewarded to discover that the challenges that they faced were common amongst practitioners from all walks of life. Stories of success and failure were shared throughout the day, and just about everyone in the room could relate to some of the challenges faced by their peers.

It was an inspiring day to lead-off this year’s World Usability Congress in Graz. To learn more about the workshop or for information on our integrated approach to strategy, design and engineering, please visit Architech’s site.

Ramy Nassar

Managing Director at Design + Technology firm Architech, based in Toronto, Canada.


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