Is Fear Holding Your Business or Product Back?

by Karyn Zuidinga

on May 12, 2014

"There is growing evidence to suggest that design-centric companies outperform their peers.” This from a recent report (February 2014) from the Design Management Institute. Increasingly we see stories in the various business publications like Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and the Wall Street Journal touting the value of User Experience (UX), design and design thinking to business. The message is invest in design and you will be more competitive, more productive, more innovative.

And yet, when I’m talking with business people about UX or design I very commonly hear things like:

"I don’t care about the design, I just need to sell more product."
"I can’t afford to invest in design. I need it to be 'just' good enough to launch."
"It's too late to do any design work, we're launching soon."
"The design is fine, I just want to tweak it so it's usable."
"Just make room so that we can add these new features, don't worry about the rest."

These are paraphrased but accurate characterizations of common sentiments expressed by very senior staff (director and above) in both large and smaller organizations; by people on the product management side, the marketing/communications, operations, and IT. In talking to other UX and design folk, I hear very similar stories.

The question is if investment in design and UX is so good for business, why is there so much resistance? Clearly cost and time/timing are considerable factors. But, again, if there is a clear competitive advantage to making this investment, and the examples of businesses successfully doing so are numerous, there must be some other factor or factors holding decision makers back.

It occurs to me that Tom and David Kelly's work around creative confidence is applicable here. While their work is focused on the broader reclamation of creative confidence, given the misconceptions around design and UX (see my other post about what is UX), that user research can put the spotlight on unexamined assumptions, and the steps in the process seem mysterious to some, it seems to me that the four fears they discuss as being barriers to creativity, are also likely barriers to investing in UX and design:

  1. Fear of the unknown
  2. Fear of being judged
  3. Fear of losing control
  4. Fear of taking the first step

As practitioners, whether we are internal resources or external consultants, we have to remember that we are asking the business to take a leap of faith and overcome some serious barriers when they engage in a design process.

For business stakeholders, there are three simple things you can do to ease these tensions for yourself and your team:

  1. Ask about outcomes. If you know more about what should come out of the process, then you will be more motivated to participate and support it. It will also help you and the design team become clearer about exactly what you are looking for.
  2. Work with people you trust. The experience for you should be supportive, open and collaborative. While you may experience moments of discomfort, you will also experience moments of great energy and insight. A good team will guide you through both and build your creative confidence along the way.
  3. Trust your gut when it comes to providing feedback on design prototypes or mockups. You’ll know good design when you see it, there is a sense of harmony and balance. If you've had a collaborative and open relationship, you will a) see something that makes sense to you and b) feel okay about being honest with your feedback

For more reading:

Design Thinking: Ready for Prime Time

Three Factors to Consider in User Experience Design

Enterprise Software: Why the User Experience Matters

Design Thinking in Harvard Business Review

Photo from: The Design Observer

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