I started my career in the UX department at Huge, where we built products for some of the world’s largest digitally-driven businesses. Our motto was “Focus on your user’s needs to meet your business’s needs,” and we brought a user-centric design process to every engagement.
After 10 years there, it was impossible not to carry that user-centered ethos with me out of digital agency life and into my current role at Open Listings, the startup I co-founded as a way to solve one of my own pain points: a frustrating and expensive homebuying experience.
While CEO may seem like a far stretch from UX director, the rise of the UX-minded exec has been fueled by the designer/founders of some of today’s biggest startups like Airbnb, Pinterest, and Kickstarter.
It’s no surprise that good design and a stellar user experience has moved from “nice to have” to a top priority for nearly every company. So, for leaders who don’t know where to start, here are 5 steps you can take to make great UX your bottom line.
1. Genuinely give a shit about your customers
There’s no way to fake it: customer empathy that actually impacts your business takes legwork, a willingness to listen, and a real desire to improve. Look for opportunities to conduct user research. Get both quantitative and qualitative feedback throughout your users’ entire experience.
At Open Listings, we do this by asking our users to rate their real estate agents after key interactions. We also hop on the phone to talk to buyers who’ve given us a 4-star rating and ask them how we could’ve made their experience 5-star worthy. We also put quick and dirty InVision prototypes in front of users to see what they think. We know that we’re not perfect and can always be better by listening to our users’ excitement or frustration when interacting with our product.
2. Make sure everyone in the company knows your user’s journey
At Airbnb HQ, they prominently display their user journey. In fact, it’s so important they had a Pixar animator illustrate it.
Even if you don’t have that Pixar-level money (we don’t), you can still help every member of your company understand your users inside and out. Build out a journey map—if you don’t have a lot of dough or design resources, UXPressia is a good place to start.
Share this journey early and often so it’s fresh in your mind as well. I dedicate an hour to sit down with every new hire and walk them through it. The members of our Buyer Experience Team have it printed out at their desks. In order to solve user pain points and needs, everyone has to be on the same page of what those things are.
3. Make UX measurable
While the last thing any designer wants to talk about is KPIs or metrics, you’ve got to balance intuition with data. Businesses need a way to know that your efforts are paying off. Plus, it doesn’t have to be scary or snooze-worthy.
Find the ways to quantify how you’re helping your customers, and make them a company-wide priority.
For us, our key UX metrics are:
- Satisfaction: We collect a Net Promoter Score from buyers who go through the offer-making process with us
- Retention: A great way to tell if your product is providing users value is to see if, when, and how users return
- Money refunded back to buyers each week: It’s a sneaky way to wrap a business outcome (sales) around a core part of our mission—making buying a home affordable, which to us is equally important as revenue
We share our metrics out with the entire company in our weekly all-hands meeting. That way, everyone knows how important these numbers are to our organization.
4. Avoid designing “growth hacks” and shiny objects
Often, company leaders have their eye on what’s “next” versus what’s broken. Rather than chase a trend, look for where your business can have the most impact in people’s lives today so an entire process can be better 3-5 years from now. Being the first to VR in your industry might create a nice press hit, but will it fundamentally make your users’ lives easier? Make sure there’s the right balance.
It’s liberating to remember that nothing is original. You don’t get brownie points for making something different. But, you do get rewarded with a successful business when you make things better.
5. Don’t make your internal user experience an afterthought
HR teams often call this “culture.” But, building a happy and retained workforce is as much UX design as the end-to-end experience you’re building on your website or your service.
Get feedback and continuously improve upon your internal user experience. Treat your valuable users—in this case, your employees—like you would your target audience. You’ll need their commitment to building a great user experience.
“Building a happy workforce is as much UX design as the end-to-end experience you’re building on your website.”
Want your company to be more user-centered but don’t know where to start? Even informal conversations with a few customers can jumpstart new improvements or change how you think about their journey.
Share out user feedback across the company through digestible summary decks and video reels. This tiny yet crucial shift can be enough to get your company to empathize with your customers—and, as a by-product, prioritize efforts that improve the user experience and move your bottom line.
Learn more about what it takes to be a successful design leader—read the Design Leadership Handbook at DesignBetter.co.