How to Build UX Culture in the Company

Raya Dimitrova / Thursday, August 04, 2016

Why would you care about creating a “UX culture” in the workplace? And what does that even mean?

If you are a fan of definitions, here’s one for “UX culture”:
The awareness of the team members/company employees of the importance of UX and it’s role in the work process.

Now why is that a thing?

From what I have seen here at Infragistics, the benefits of having built UX culture amongst your work peers are:

  1. Others (non-designers) can tackle small UX issues by themselves
    Or in other words - UX becoming everybody’s job

    On one hand this helps the designers focus more on the big picture and the more complex design challenges while devs take care of the small UX issues by themselves (using the most basic, good design practices). On the other hand, this gives the devs a bit more confidence about their design skills and helps them avoid creating UX issues in the first place (now that they know broader spacings are not the enemy ;-).

  2. Better understanding of the design work
    Or Less “Why do that?”

    Now that the non-designers have a basic design dictionary in their heads, discussions are more productive and to the point, rather than circling back to the unhelpful “I just like this more”.

  3. Enlarge the scope of your impact
    Or Strategic vs Tactical

    UX culture effects not only the regular employees but the headquarters as well. And this is where the real value for you, the designer, is. Once product owners and executives understand the value of UX, you have the green light to act and make an impact on the larger strategic level... the ‘what are we really doing here’ level. You can do the research required to understand ‘what user needs are we satisfying’ rather than just managing tactical improvements like making the navigation of the site less confusing.

Get the bosses on board

The fastest and most straightforward way of getting UX into the board room is to introduce the stakeholders to the actual end user of the product.
Just letting them see ordinary users fighting with what they believed was a brilliant solution will do magic. Seeing first hand how actual people interact with the product will convince your bosses that user research and UX efforts are meaningful and worth the investment of time and money. You don’t even need those special one-way-mirror rooms. A recording of a few actual people using the product in a non-directed manner will be enough.

shock

Once they are convinced, the rest of the company, the people who actually do the work, should follow.

The conversion process

I have heard from our HR that to change the culture, you need to change the conversation in the room enough number of times.
So how do you change the conversation in the room?

Step 1 - The seed = the UX advocate

Are you a UX designer? Then hey, the seed is planted! The fact that you are hired is the first prerequisite. And even if you are not exactly titled “designer” or “ux” but you carry the pro-UX gene in your blood, you can still take on that advocate role and be great at it! All you have to do now is water that UX seed until it grows up and starts producing new seeds (once you convince people design matters, new ux advocates will appear)! Then keep watering it until it takes over the house.

Plant overtaking the house

Step 2 - The watering

UX Smalltalk

Be a design advocate on a 24/7 basis. You don’t even need to put much effort into it if UX is truly your passion. All you have to do is let it out. Anytime you find yourself chatting with colleagues - over the water cooler, while having lunch together or in the kitchen drinking your morning coffee, throw in a UX comment. Make a name for yourself as the UX person.
At our Infragistics office in Bulgaria, Stefan Ivanov has been advocating UX for so long now that people themselves don’t miss a chance to mention the magic UX word around him. “And UX is important” is a random sentence you may hear thrown in Stefan’s presence even without direct relevance to the discussion - just to make sure it ends happily :)

UX Training

One way to spread UX awareness across a greater scope of people is conducting regularly scheduled UX training classes. These need only take an hour or two and focus on UX principles, methods, processes, etc. Including a hands-on exercise at the end gives people a taste for what UX really means. At Infragistics we have monthly UX training in each of our largest global offices. One designer creates the presentation and hands-on exercise, then shares it with 2 other designers who will present it in the other 2 offices. This allows us to distribute the training preparation between all the members of the UX team and deliver them regularly. If you are a one person UXer across many offices, you’ll need to conduct the class remotely. On occasion, we’ve had to present live in one office and have remote attendees participate from the other offices. We’ve found that Google Hangout, Skype for Business or any of a number of other screen sharing/conference call application work pretty well.

To attract more attendees, it helps to load the training rooms with treats, drinks, and snacks to make participation in the training nicer and more casual. This is an hour or two people would spend in an environment different from their desk/cubicle/office where they will learn something useful while enjoying their time. After all - who doesn’t like to participate in a fun and interesting design workshop? And free snacks on top of it!

UX Training image1 UX Training image2

UX Club

For those who show interest in diving deeper into UX topics, we have also been organizing UX club meetings. They cover topics the club members are interested in that were not included in the trainings (e.g. gamification or different workshops). This watermelon workshop was, besides being fun, also useful for helping us pick good pie slices animations.

UX Club - watermelon workshop

UX workshops on work tasks

If you work in a big enough company, test the design artifacts you create for a given project with colleagues who don’t work on this project and don’t know much about it. This is not only a cheap way to do early validation, but also helps grow the UX culture by allowing colleagues to experience test sessions firsthand.

Including actual users in the workshops will, of course, provide better data. In this case you can record the testing session and review it later with your team members. Discuss the discoveries that emerged from the testing and what you can do together as a team to tackle them. Just like with the stakeholders, meeting the team members with an actual user interacting with their creation will set new, UX-friendlier grounds.

Attend scrums

If you are facing a team that hasn’t worked with a UX specialist before, the most efficient way of teaching them where UX work can help is by attending the weekly scrum meetings, where teams discuss what will be worked on during the coming week. At each meeting, mark the tasks in which you will get involved. Done on a regular basis, eventually the team will learn where UX is needed and will begin inviting you to participate themselves.

When Infragistics hired Stefan Ivanov as the first UX Architect in the Bulgarian office, he had to do exactly that. He regularly attended numerous scrum meetings. One year later, it totally paid off. Now he doesn’t need to attend as many scrums simply because team members already know when the UX people need to be involved and come look for us. If this isn’t a proof for having successfully built a UX culture, I don’t know what is!

Needed assets

Of course you don’t need to do all of these suggestions. There are many other things you can begin doing to nurture a UX culture. There are certain things, however, that will define your success:

  • How persistent you are.
    Changing a culture is not something that happens overnight. It takes time and it happens little by little. Like an ant, you should be stubbornly building that UX ant hill without letting anything stop you.

  • Will you manage to communicate your message to upper management?
    In order to take 2 hours per month from people’s working time, you need the permission of the boss. And preferably their blessing as well. If you first win over the corporate “heads” to your UX side, the “body” will follow. By the way, the heads mentioning UX in their inspirational speeches can also help a great deal ;)

Begin with your boss and be persistent until you reach the UX company support you need to do your job most efficiently. After all, this is your UX context of use and we all know that context of use is a key factor in creating a great UX experience.

What are you waiting for? Aren’t you already planning your next step for spreading your UX spidernet in the office?