Let’s Solve Your Five Biggest User Experience Problems

The panel we assembled:

  • Leigh Allen- Aredondo, Head of User Experience, Spruce Up and Host of Podcast UX Cake
  • Michael Woo, UX Manager, UpTop
  • Craig Nishizaki, Sr. Director of Business, Design, and Development at UpTop

Key themes that we covered:

  • Having the right mindset when making user experience decisions 
  • Effective communication between cross-functional teams, management, and stakeholders
  • KPIs and measuring the effectiveness of UX, and smart KPIs to measure
  • Justifying the value of research and ways to prove value as a UX designer
  • How to read the room of stakeholders
  • Advice to Jr. Designers, Jr. marketing, and Jr. Product teams

Watch the Replay


Craig Nishizaki: Welcome to our webinar for this month. I’m Craig Nishizaki from UpTop, and we have Leigh Allen-Arrandando and Michael Woo with us. We’d like to have them introduce themselves, as well as introduce the topic, and what we’re doing this month is we’re talking about the 5 most common challenges facing UX designers. We polled internal as well as external users, experienced designers and leaders, and the topics came back with these answers, so…

Number one was mindset: thinking strategically, not tactically. Number two was communication, working on cross-functional communication, across teams. Number three was KPIs, measuring the effectiveness of UX. Number four was proving value, and number five was scaling design. And we have only an hour, so I’m not sure that we’re gonna get through all of these. But our goal today is to be educational, as well as practical, and give you all some tips and some tools that you can use to be more effective as UX designers, and as leaders in your business.

So with that, I wanna have Leigh introduce herself and then Michael introduce himself. And then we’ll get started.


Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Ah, yes, so I am head of UX at Spruce Up, which is a startup here in Seattle, and we’re just about to launch actually. It’s probably next week; we’re getting very excited, but people can check it out at beta.getspruceup.com. It’s a personal shopping for everything home and design, so that’s very exciting to be a part of.

I am also the host of UX Cake podcast –

Craig Nishizaki: Yeah, check it out!

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: It’s in wherever you listen to podcasts, and that website is uxcake.co, and we’ve got a lot of great content there for people who are probably in the audience.

Craig Nishizaki: Yeah, that’s awesome. Alright, thanks Leigh. How about you, Michael?

Michael Woo: Oh, hi everybody, I’m Michael Woo. I am director of UX here at UpTop. In case you don’t know, it’s a design and development agency. Been here just under five years now, and I have, I believe, five designers on my team, and we’re working on some pretty cool stuff, spanning across many industries. Enterprise Tools, mobile apps, we’re even working on an internal product right now, which hopefully will be announced shortly. Yeah, I think that’s about it. I don’t do many cool things like Leigh, here. I don’t have the time, because I have three kids, but –

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Well, I also have two kids.

Michael Woo: Oh.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Sorry.

Michael Woo: Alright. I feel terrible.

Craig Nishizaki: You’re an overachiever.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: You’re doing lots of really cool stuff.

Michael Woo: That’s why you don’t have time to read, I guess.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: That’s why I don’t have time to read, and you’re reading a really cool book.

Michael Woo: We’ll get to it.

Craig Nishizaki: Alright, well the great thing is, both Mike and Leigh have worked on internal teams, leading internal teams as well as agency teams, and so I think we’re gonna have a great opportunity to provide an inside and outside perspective to each of these, so why don’t we go ahead and get started.

So, let me do this real quick, some of the questions that came in that kind of drove these topics, I just wanted to recognize some of the folks’ questions. So, when we have registrants, people asked … Arpalma asked, gaining buy-in for research from senior leadership was a topic.

A Mike asked about applying KPIs to UX work. Joan asked about writing new protocols and methodologies for new challenges. Another Mike asked about justifying to clients … so this must be from an agency perspective, the value and investment in critical research activities as part of a design scope.

And so hopefully we’re touching on the topics that are really important to you. We want this to be relative and engaging, and then we’re also going to be answering questions. And so, as you are listening, if you have questions or comments, feel free to put them in the chat bar. Rochelle’s gonna relay them to us in here, and I’ll start looking at them Slack and asking those questions along the way.

Alright, should we get started?

Michael Woo: Let’s do it.

Craig Nishizaki: Okay cool. So, on mindset, so this is about thinking strategically, not just tactically. This theme comes up a lot, alright. And so, we’re talking about from a UX, from a junior, maybe entry level UX designer perspective, this is a common mentoring topic, right? So, what can you guys share, if you are mentoring somebody, in terms of looking at things strategically and not just tactically, kind of share from your own experience, and then maybe some ideas around mentoring.

Kind of a big question, right?

Michael Woo: Should I start?

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Sure, do it.

Michael Woo: So, in fairness right, I came … before I was here at UpTop, I came from an internal product team, and it was BigFish Games, and you really didn’t have the opportunity to really think strategically, at least to the point I think we’re talking about here, because there’s just so much support around you in a large company. There are so many roles, from project management, to development leads, to independent researchers, and all the folks, right? So even layers and layers of management, right, usually handle all that strategic-level stuff.

But from my perspective here at UpTop, it’s a little bit, I would say, unfair to ask of our junior and mid-level designers to say, “Hey, you need to be able to think this way.” I know, because I was there when I was a junior mid-level designer. But at the same time, knowing what it takes to succeed here at UpTop, or at any agency for that matter, you have to wear many, many hats, right? You have to be that Swiss army knife, and so what I tell my folks is that, sure, you want to hone your skills as a designer, right? But you have to be able to flex between the layers of project management, which I feel sits on top of that, and even account management, yourself Craig, which sits on top of the product managers.

And being able to go in between all those layers at any given point, especially through, let’s say, a discovery meeting with a client, because if you don’t, you’re gonna lose sight of the ultimate goal or the main outcome that you’re trying to achieve for any specific project. So, I know, it’s unfair because a lot of times, these junior level designers or mid-level designers, they might only have a few years in, right? And experience is a huge thing, right, and so it’s like you’re just throwing them into the deep end. Yeah, it’s just one of the things.

Craig Nishizaki: That’s great input. How about you Leigh?

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Well, one of the things that we had talked about before regarding this is the expectation as a designer or researcher progresses in their career, one of the things that we look for in a leader is someone who can show that ability to be more strategic. So, one of the ways definitely at Amazon, when I had a fair amount of folks at varying levels, and they would often … they were struggling, like you said, having, being told to work at a tactical level, and things not always working out right, because they’re being basically told what to do by a PM, or a Dev.

So, I think some of the tactics that I tried to get them to implement on a regular basis, so that the teams they were working with were actually getting used to being asked by them, “What’s the problem we’re trying to solve?” That’s a good place to start.

So, there’s a lot of different times that that comes up. It’s not just the beginning of the project. It’s throughout the project, and someone says, “Hey, you need to move this link,” or something very tactical, and it’s completely okay, and I encourage people, designers or researchers, to say, “Well, let’s take a step back instead of designing it in this moment, what’s the problem to solve?” And keep coming back there, because people will … it’s just natural to like, jump to solutions, so keep bringing it back to what’s the problem we’re trying to solve.

That’s just an example of something –

Craig Nishizaki: – That’s a great example –

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: – of something that you can do to start, because then that is more strategic than tactical. You might still be focused on this one feature, or this one page, but there’s many ways like that that I think someone can start thinking. When you do start thinking more strategically, so for example, I’m working on this feature, if you could do a flow … just sketch out a user flow, and say, “Okay, well this feature … oh, well, actually it really relates to this other feature…”

And you come to the PM or the DEB and you say, “Hey, you know, I realized that this is actually what we’re doing here is really going to impact this other thing…” and just kind of regularly doing that maybe doing user flows is actually another great way I often see designers not doing, and it’s pretty critical to actually being able to see something realistically, so that might be another thing that you could add to your toolbox.

Craig Nishizaki: Yeah, those are great ones. So, in terms of when you start thinking about understanding the problem, is it looking at it from a business lens, looking at it from a design and user lens, and looking it from the technical side as well? Is that what you both agree?

Michael Woo: Yeah, I wanna say that empathy, obviously, is a very valuable trait being a designer, but that doesn’t just mean being empathetic towards the user. It means being empathetic towards the business, the client, and really understanding the lens that everybody’s looking through, right?

So a lot of what we do is that we start at the end, meaning what is the outcome that you wanna achieve on a specific project? And to your point, the goals is [sic] part of that, but you know when you start at the end, you wanna figure out what is the best approach to get there, right?

And sure, you can start with a baseline of really strategic questions and that you will ask throughout the process, but I think a big part of it is really connecting with the client, everybody involved, and really at a human level understanding … like a lot of these hidden needs, right? So a tagline we have around here is being able to dig deeper, and so you can ask all these baseline questions, but it’s that ability to take a nugget of information that you might get interviewing the client, and being able to branch off and uncover some hidden thing that they have trouble expressing, right?

As an example, right, like … your stake holder might be relatively new to the company, and besides success for that project, their ultimate goal might be actually impressing their boss, or something like that, but they won’t ever say that to you.

Craig Nishizaki: A personal driver.

Michael Woo: Exactly, a personal driver, and so, you knowing these little things, at least you can kind of, drive the discussion, the project to kind of satisfy that component as well, and having the client know that, at a personal level, they will really appreciate that, right?

Craig Nishizaki: Yeah. Alright.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Yeah, and I think that relates to also the question someone had getting leadership to buy in to whatever it is that you think is important as design or research, on behalf of the user. Over an over and over again, I have to remind people, do you understand what the business objective is, and do you understand what’s driving that leadership. What’s important to them?

And then, phrase … couch everything that you’re doing in how this wonderful design or this wonderful user experience is actually going to get us closer to that objective or help them meet their goal.

Craig Nishizaki: Yeah, I think the pro tip there is your client or your customer internal, whether you’re an internal TFTE or an external agency, is the buyer, or the internal buyer, right? What’s their motivations as well as the user, and how does that all relate to the overarching business objectives, trying to tie all that together, right?

So what are some resources or some things that we can offer to people on the webinar that may be helpful, a book or podcast, right? Think on UX Cake, there’s an episode number 14 with Fiz Yazdi, right –

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Yeah, that was awesome …

Craig Nishizaki: Episode number 50 with Mariah Johnston. If you get a chance, both of those are really solid gold nuggets, I think. And something you could listen to pretty quickly, but pull away some really good tactical and strategic approaches to getting alignment there, right?

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Yeah, Fiz Yazdi actually has a … it was available on the site for a while. I’ll go back and see if it … make sure that it is for your viewers, but she actually has a pdf that walks you through a process of becoming more empathetic to your business, your stakeholders, so that you can start getting … she calls it getting more of the work that you want to do, but it is in line with getting buy-off with leadership.

Craig Nishizaki: Yeah, that’s great, and then Mike, anything?

Michael Woo: Yeah, I just wanted to plug this book real quick. Essentialism, this is a book that I’m reading right now, given to me by a former designer that worked here. It ties in tangentially because a lot of the issues I’ve heard from designers, some from my team, is that, strategically it’s difficult for them in a discovery meeting to kind of filter all the noise, and it’s a lot of noise.

Sometimes it’s a few hours of intense information, just left, right, coming right at you. And being able to capture and knowing what to do with all that. So, this book basically tells you to live life of intent. Again, it’s tangentially related, but live life with intent, and to really learn to say “no” to the things that really don’t matter in life, and to really focus your energies on the things that do … the very few things that do.

So, you can apply this to your career growth, meaning, hey, if there is something out there that you really want to strive to be, if it’s to be a senior UX designer, make sure you don’t do things in life that don’t lead you down that path, because again, everything you do that doesn’t relate to that is gonna bog you down, right?

And you can apply the same principles, I believe, at a project level, right? So again, all that noise really shove all the things that don’t really matter, and come back to it. But do capture it, but don’t let that bog your brain down as your trying to, again, think of a strategy, or what have you, on a gig or project –

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Yeah, and in line with simplicity, that just sort of like reminded me of a phrase that I use often in the project setting, and everyone always agrees. Like developer, business … it doesn’t matter, because it sounds so good? It’s a principle we all wanna live by, and so we want our software to do this as well, if let’s start with simple, and add complexity when we see that we need to add that.

Craig Nishizaki: There you go –

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: And so if you’re trying to get your team to simplify, that’s something you can throw out there, and all.

Craig Nishizaki: That’s awesome.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Oh yeah. Absolutely. I believe that too.

Craig Nishizaki: There you go. Get an alignment on that. That’s awesome.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: I should trademark that.

Craig Nishizaki: You should. Alright. Well, let’s move on to the next topic, ’cause I think these are all interwoven, and it’s about communication. How to be more effective, and on that note, there was a couple of big points in there. One of ’em was cross-functional team communication, and then also, misalignment of stake holders, where people have their own motivations or their own priorities and how to get everyone aligned into a vision, right? Or a strategy.

So why don’t we start with Leigh on that one, and I’ll have Mike kind of pop into that, but … any thoughts around …

You wanna start with cross-functional teams, why it’s so hard to get communication working?

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Yeah, sure. It is hard, and another UX Cake podcast with the Sure Ones that actually just … the most I redid that one, it’s number 19, is about cross-functional teams, and they actually have a new book coming out. Oh, it launched yesterday, I think, called Turning People into Teams. It’s a fantastic book, so many great, like really useful techniques that you can use when you’re working a team or cross-function teams.

But the question being how do you improve or how you –

Craig Nishizaki: I think part of it is why is it so hard, and then [crosstalk] I think all of you would agree –

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Because we’re people –

Craig Nishizaki: Because we’re people, and we have our own priorities, right?

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: And it does go back to that being empathetic and understanding what everybody is trying to get out of it personally, as well as professionally, from the project.

Another thing that is really important to remember and to start off with is to realize that we all are going for the same goal: we all want this project to be successful, and if there are any ways that you can kind of help your team understand that you’re all on the same team … unfortunately, teams often start acting like they’re not teams, especially if they’re cross-functional, because then you’ve got a person that’s part of multiple teams.

So coming to the place where a person … you know, if all you have control over is yourself, coming to the place where that person’s coming from is something to think about.

Craig Nishizaki: Yep, that’s great.

Michael Woo: So, I’d just like to add that we actually had a recent exercise at UpTop, trying to improve the cross-functional relationship between design and dev, and so what we did was we just started by holding a little impromptu meeting in the kitchen, and we started with listing out all the things that were supposedly issues to improve upon.

So I would say start there, because a lot of it could be very easy to solve, right?

Craig Nishizaki: Low hanging fruit.

Michael Woo: Low hanging fruit, right? And so, what came out of that was hey, there could be physical barriers, right, and there was. Dev team seat on that side of the office; design is on this side, right? But they’re working on the same project. So in terms of communication, there’s always this gap, this physical gap, keeping everybody apart.

And so, one of the changes we made recently was just grabbing the devs, and plunking them into the design area, because there was enough seating. But that alone improved things, right?

Then, we looked at our cubicles. I mean, literally, there’s a little bit of a wall, which people just started breaking down, and it was like, “Oh, I can see who’s there now.” Right? So, again, low hanging fruit.

Some other things is, take a look at your tools. We use Slack all the time, which is great, but at the same time, I’m a little bit old-fashioned. I mean, if the person I’m trying to talk me is right next to me, I’m like, “Hey, come bug me. I wanna talk to you.” Right? I think a lot of times, having that old school kind of communication is great to have. There’s just no substitute for it, right?

Other things is, in terms of tools, a couple of years ago, we bought a lot of these foam core boards, just laying around the office. And what that was meant to do was to spark a lot of meaningful collaboration, and it’s been used widely ever since then –

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: How do you use it for collaboration?

Michael Woo: Well, I mean, if you’re talking about … well, for one thing, being able to pin up our facts related to the project, instead of two people hovering, or more people hovering over a monitor, you can hover this 8 by 10 board, and everybody can see that [inaudible].

You can put post-it notes on it, and stuff like that. Really interact with it. So that was the goal of that, but yeah, I mean, if there’s anything else, I would just kind of see what the issues are, and go from there.

Craig Nishizaki: Another couple of little hacks is most companies have big screens, TV screens, now that they use for presentation in the conference rooms, and so with those … either with foam boards, or with a white board, just grab a projector, project up on that, and then do your collaboration there, ’cause you’re not gonna stick post-it notes on the TV screen typically, right?

But it’s just a way to get people involved, right? And a big part of this, I think, three-four years ago, we started doing more work shopping with our clients early stage, right at the beginning of a project, and getting all those stake holders in the same room to tell their side of the story, or tell their story, what they’re motivations are, etc., you really start to find that there’s a lot of trust issues, right?

We’re people. People have trust issues. There’s baggage, there’s all these things, and by getting people working together in a collaborative manner, you’re able to break those walls down as well.

And so that’s been helpful.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: For remote, ’cause I know that there’s a lot of teams that are distributed. One of the things that worked really well with a particular designer and his dev team at Amazon … well, the designers sat together, so he would go to the dev team like twice a week and just kind of sit with them, but also they had developers elsewhere. And they would actually have the developers up on the screen just working, all day.

Well, only during the times when the time zones were the same, so it’s not always practical, but there were enough, like three hours or so, when the time zones matched up, and so, just having them there on the web … camera was on, and they could –

Craig Nishizaki: That’s a great idea –

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Felt like that were sort of –

Michael Woo: The intent was to really address that.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: And they were just working. They weren’t talking to each other for three hours. Everybody was just working, but you knew that that person was there, and you could say, “Hey, Steve, can you … what do you think about ‘blah’?”

Craig Nishizaki: Yeah, it’s interesting, too, ’cause from our perspective, oftentimes we’re brought into situations where there may be some tension between a web team or a development team, a marketing team, a business team, etc., where the business and the marketing team have a vision and a strategy that they want to execute on. But historically, there’s been some things that have happened with ghost IT, or shadow IT, and things happening outside of the normal protocol, right?

And so, we’re brought into a room, and we’re kind of doing some discovery, and that tension starts to come out, almost like a family therapy session. But really the role of the UX team, because you sit the UX designer or the strategist, or the lead, sits in between all those people, you have a lot of influence, or a big opportunity to kind of bring those groups together.

If you think of it like a Venn diagram, and you have business, and then you have design or users, and you have technology, the closer you can bring those circles together is where the innovation happens, right? And that’s the unity and the cohesiveness, being able to accelerate creativity instead of blame, and things like that.

And I think that’s where, those of you that are on the webinar, have a big opportunity to make a huge impact on your business.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: And that gets back to internal relationship building.

Craig Nishizaki: Yeah, outside of just work. Personal relationship building.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Mm-hmm (affirmative)- So important.

Craig Nishizaki: Yeah, yeah. So, that’s why I like working with your designers.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: That’s why we like working with [crosstalk] ’cause he likes working with designers.

Michael Woo: Absolutely.

Craig Nishizaki: Actually, I like working with almost everybody. There’s a few people maybe not, but …

Alright, so one of the next topics, kind of keeping us on task, oh resources for communication … what Leigh said, the sure ones, the book called Turning People into Teams, so new book that’s out.

We’ll give you a list of these resources after the webinar, so that you can look ’em up on your own.

And the next one is one that always comes up. It’s KPIs and measuring the effectiveness of UX, and what are smart KPIs to measure? There’s some things that are direct, there some things that are indirect impacts.

Leigh, we had chatted about the heart framework, and so I’d love to have you start talking about the heart framework. Again, we’ll give you a link to this information.

From your perspective, Leigh. You can talk about some other things as well.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Well the heart framework … if you just Google the heart framework, there’s like so many various ways to implement it, but heart is happiness, engagement adoption, retention, and task completion. Or something like that.

And so, the adoption, engagement/adoption/retention, those are really like common KPIs. It’s the happy, the task completion that can bring that user focus to it. This was developed by some folks at Google ventures, by the way. And what’s important is to understand what are the various ways you can measure these things.

‘Cause some of them are quantity, some of them are quality, and then task completion, for example. You can look at how many people a particular funnel, quantitatively.

But qualitatively, you really need to use [inaudible] studies to understand if people … what people are actually or how people are actually doing it.

Happiness. Again, you can measure overall satisfaction for surveys, and likeliness of coming back. But that gives you a piece of the picture. That’s not really telling you our people … how are people’s emotion going through their experience with your product, service, end to end.

So there’s a number of ways that you can measure that. It’s so important that you understand what they are and how you’re going to measure them before you tell your leadership, “Hey, we need to start measuring this …” you need to understand “Why”, and why your business would really benefit to add to their KPIs, because it’s a big deal to get it, so, but then you add it to your company’s KPIs

But another tool that you can use for happiness in particular, is … it’s called User … there’s a framework, and I’ll give you the link, you can share.

It’s kind of like this survey, usability.

Craig Nishizaki: SS Corp?

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: No, it’s a user … it’s like a user survey for emotion.

Craig Nishizaki: [inaudible]

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: And people self-select how their emotion is when you ask them. It’s like, you would use it in a usability study, so yeah.

Michael Woo: Yeah, I totally agree. I wish we did measuring KPIs more here at UpTop. I think from a project lifecycle standpoint, we’re usually not pulled in at that stage, although there are certain projects that we do do it on. But I do agree, having a balance of quantitative and qualitative metrics to measure KPIs is very important.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: And just being able to talk about that, shows your leadership that you understand that business objectives are very important to us.

Craig Nishizaki: Yeah, and it’s interesting, so project by project type examples, right, so, for instance with the laugh time study that’s happening with the Laugh app. It’s being used with elementary school students in Seattle Public School, and they’re actually testing emotional state before and after, and then observing [crosstalk] the behavior, right.

And so that’s kind of a real life, hands-on type qualitative study. Oftentimes when we’re looking at improving the conversion or those types of metrics, you’re looking at quantitative and qualitative, right? So, looking at analytics and user-behavior monitoring tools to get the “why” … er, not the “why”, to get the signals and trends, and then doing qualitative to get the “why”. Why is that human doing this?

You know there’s other things. There’s work that we had done on a trouble-shooting wizard … this was years ago … for the Amazon Kindle. And their measurement that they wanted to achieve was reducing the number of phone calls that were coming through customer service that could have been self-service, right? Again, so it depends on where that experience is and in that customer’s journey. The measurements of what you’re going to track, and how you’re gonna track it. There’s lots of different methods for it, right?

In terms of some other resources, there was a really good … Jared whole blog post … about measuring ROI and different ways to measure it, whether it’s reducing the cost of support. Again, coming to that Amazon Kindle trouble-shooting example, or if it’s again, emotional state, satisfaction, things like that. But there’s always the need for quantitative and qualitative viewpoints. I think if you’re just looking at one, you’re kind of missing a big chunk of the story.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: You can find out what, but not why.

Craig Nishizaki: Yeah. So just some of the other … some folks had asked about applying KPIs to UX work. From whether you’re current projects or previous projects, thinking about some of those … I don’t know if this is putting you on the spot, but any examples of “outside of the box” kind of KPIs that you would have tracked?

Michael Woo: Outside of the box, huh?

Craig Nishizaki: You can pass. We can always go back to it, and give the resources later, ’cause I didn’t ask you these before.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: I mean, I don’t know how outside of the box it is, maybe for some people it is. [crosstalk] So like what I do every week as part of my report on [inaudible] KPIs is we have a survey that measure … any number of … we ask people a whole bunch of things, but we’re trying to understand how satisfied they were in a lot of little places. So, that is sort of our happiness, I guess, that’s our happiness measurement. And because I have to report these every week, I have to think of new ways to get people to fill out these surveys, and then even go out and talk to people.

So it’s a really good thing to make UX the owner of. That is a little bit out of the box for a lot of companies. It’s not … UX isn’t always responsible for a [inaudible] necessarily, right?

Michael Woo: Yeah, and probably not outside the box, but looking at obvious, task completion rate, but then also time to complete the task, right? And measuring whether or not they’re using navigation to get to that specific task, or are they getting there through search.

Those indicators will tell you whether or not they’ve tried to navigate, couldn’t figure it out, so they eventually went to search to figure it out. Look at how all these different metrics will help form a clearer picture in terms of how successful your UX is.

Craig Nishizaki: Yeah, that’s great.

You know what’s interesting is with new things like voice, UI, and augmented reality and those types of things, it will be interesting to try to see what the KPIs, how they morph, in terms of measuring that or tools that we would use.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Yeah, because emotion is super important. Like, to get people to continue using a voice, you have to really reduce frustration. It’s a different way of even testing.

Craig Nishizaki: Exactly, it’s exciting, right?

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: It is.

Craig Nishizaki: Exciting times for UX space.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Yeah. Yeah.

Craig Nishizaki: So, let’s see, the next topic, actually this is a great one again. It ties into KPIs. It ties into communication. It ties into mindset. It’s proving value. So, a common thread amongst people that had answered the questions was justifying the value of research and then other ways to prove value as a UX designer.

Magnus Revang is a Gartner researcher that I speak with a lot, and he has a great quote. He says, “When you skip research, the project actually becomes more expensive, because you add features to gloss over the fact that you don’t know the real problem that you’re solving.” And I think that that is … I think people kind of know that, but I think it’s still hard for people to say, “We need to do research,” because they have this fear that it’s gonna take a long time, it’s gonna cost a lot of money, and we’re gonna find out what we already know.

Michael Woo: Yeah right.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Oh yeah. [crosstalk] those.

Craig Nishizaki: You hear that a lot?

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: All those things.

Craig Nishizaki: Yeah? So what are some thoughts that you can share with the audience about justifying the value of doing research, and then also they’re some other things in here. We’ll get to next.

Michael Woo: I’ll take this first. Yeah, I have two thoughts. I think the first one is knowing who the client is, right? So, there are clients that are engineering [inaudible], so it makes sense a lot of times that they are gonna be like, “Hey, you know what? We’re gonna build this first.” Or they probably already started building a prototype. And in terms of the research that we typically would like to do, it’s just not gonna happen. A lot of that testing is gonna happen when it goes live, and that’s fine. That’s just another, a different approach.

Going out with the MVP, learning from there, and just [inaudible]. Probably a little bit more expensive way to do things.

Craig Nishizaki: Over time, right?

Michael Woo: Of course. Then the other, the flip side is when a client, at the end of the day at an agency, a client is gonna have to pay for it. So, it is very difficult to kind of do all of the research that you wanna do as a designer especially, but that’s where we have to adapt, right? Adapt, be very lean, and there’s a base level of research that I think we need to do in order to do pretty good work, and then there’s this ideal research perspective.

I think, going back to what we were talking about, kind of the junior level of designers, a lot of these folks who come in, graduate from these UX programs or what not, and there’s no limits. They have projects that span multiple months, and have all the resources in the world, but the reality is, right, you come to an actual job and work on a real project, you’re not gonna have all those tools to work with. You’re gonna have some real constraints. So, again, just being very lean, adapting your approach, not fumbling over the fact that you can’t do what you were taught at school.

You may get 80% there, but that’s [inaudible]. This is the real world. I think just accepting that fact, and again, just finding the research that’s meaningful and doing just enough.

Craig Nishizaki: And in that case, I think that’s also internal, right? ‘Cause external, using external resources or internal, that’s still a cost, right?

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: There is a cost. Yeah, but what you have to show is the value of that cost, and I think there’s no other way to show the value than to actually do it. And so you can do a lean method, you can have things like café testing. You can … you don’t ask for permission. Just do it. You know. Actually, it really helps to get somebody on your side.

Typically there’s someone else. You’re not the only person in the entire group who thinks it would be useful to talk to the customers. Whether it’s a PM or a Dev, or a designer, or whatever, get someone else to sort of help you maybe come up with a plan, because it does take some time.

I have a story I like to tell that’s a really great example. A group that I was in at Amazon did not have research resources at all, and they were not used to doing research. Very little usability, every once in a while, because they were expensive, ’cause they went outside for them.

There was a particular project that came up to my team. I knew it was not a good idea. One thing in particular, but the PM was just completely like, “We’re just gonna do this. We’ll test it, you know, we’ll build it, and then we’ll test it.” Because Jeff B. Is the one who said we should do this one little thing, and I’m like he probably just threw that out in some meeting, and he didn’t think it through. And we’re designers. It’s our job to think it through.

So, I just .. I wasn’t a designer. I was the manager of the team, but I knew that I could set aside a day, get some people in, test them on this prototype, that we did have some wire frames, and proof that there were some issues.

To her credit, she came in and watched all of them, which was great. Very important piece of why this was so successful, but from that time on … and she did see that it was a problematic and why. From that time on, that PM who’s now a GM actually, became a convert for doing research and was asking for it constantly, like more than we could even give.

Like we actually getting budget for it.

Craig Nishizaki: That’s awesome.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: For … I mean, that wasn’t the only reason, but that was what turned her into a cheerleader.

Craig Nishizaki: Yeah, that’s a great story.

There’s a company called Hyper Island that has four rules of design thinking, and the fourth one is the rule of tangibility.  And what you did there was you made it tangible for that person to see the impact, right? And when you do a usability test or any sort of observation and you can actually watch the person and hear the verbatim of what they’re experiencing, there’s a big impact, versus just seeing a report, right?

And that’s what I’ve been able to experience, along with researchers, is watching that person have their “aha” moment of “Wow, we should do this a little differently.” And there’s power there.

In terms of … other than justifying the research, right, proving value I think something that I like to always say and hear is the purpose is for us to deliver value, not artifacts. And when you kick off project internally, externally, or you’re talking with a stake holder or client, interchangeable right, let’s say, proving value to them early and often is really important, rather than kind of having things drag out, right?

Do you have any tips as to how you start things off with a new initiative or a new project, etc., to kind of gain that trust that you’re gonna be proactive, moving things forward? Any things that you guys have learned over the years that have helped your teams create that influence and prove value?

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: You probably have your processes down on that because you’re an agency, and you have to have something that’s repeatable, right?

Michael Woo: Yeah, as you well know, Craig, we kick off any project, we usually like to do that with design workshops, right? There’s a whole lot of reasons for that: to get everybody in the same room, like you talked about, business staff, etc., design, for [inaudible] purpose, but prior to that design workshop, we like to do this great workshop one week in advance intake of all the existing resources that they have, and we just sift through all of that.

And provide a lot of baseline foundation for that design workshop, so we’re not starting from scratch, right? Like [inaudible], and we come in there, the moment the design workshop starts, we’re in there talking about all the different research that they’ve provided and our analysis of it, and existing questions and flows etc., etc., what we see as working/not working. But that’s enough to spark that conversation and to prove that value that we’re not just here to … it’s not just any other meeting.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: [crosstalk] starting with, like, stake holder interviews and –

Michael Woo: Yeah, and in some cases, we’ll do some prior interviews, if we can. Otherwise that will probably be handled in the actual workshop, but if we’re, for example, redesigning an existing location, we’ll have printouts and flows of what that application is, all the different pinpoints that we see, different spots that the data has called out that are trouble spots, right?

So we’ll pinpoint all these things, and a lot of times, the customer will come in, and they’re like, “Wow, I didn’t realize it was that bad.” Right? ‘Cause they don’t visually see things. Sometimes they’ll experience it, they’ll hear it through their co-workers, but they don’t see it all up. And so when we show ’em the all-up picture, it’s like, “Wow, you just didn’t know.” It’s painful.

So it’s a good reminder, but that’s one of the things I would do.

Craig Nishizaki: Yeah, so setting the stage by doing groundwork. Groundwork and preparation, so when you lock into that meeting, you’re actually leading the meeting, you’re not just starting the meeting, right? I think that’s a great tip.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: You can also, I think, if you don’t have the resources to start with a workshop, you could start with a heuristic, with stake holders interviews and the heuristic evaluation, which kind of sounds like it’s the lean version of what you’re doing, and people can find out how to do a heuristic evaluation online.

‘Cause there’s … there are a few different ways of doing it, but that might be a lean way of starting out.

Michael Woo: Yeah, another example is we … the outputs tend to be prototypes at the end of the clinics. We do a lot of envisioning project, and going back to something I said earlier about digging deeper, it’s a good question to ask, “Who is this prototype going to be presented to?”  Because ultimately, the stake holder we’re working with is going to show either the CEO, or somebody at the “C” level, and to get a little bit more insight into how that person operates, is very valuable.

So what we’ve heard in the past is, “Oh yeah, this person really responds to high visuals, or animations,” or the like. And so we’ll focus our energy into adding that on top of the prototype so that they can walk away with, again, nothing but positive things, right?

So those are just the little things, again, but you won’t find that out unless you just dig a little bit deeper. Connect.

Craig Nishizaki: Yeah, and I think kind of going back to the very top of the hour, right, proving value oftentimes is asking the right questions, so thinking about strategic questions versus tactical questions, and building your toolkit around that, so that you’re not ….

What I’ve found oftentimes when people are nervous, or they may be in a new area that they don’t understand too well, they jump back to what they know. And it goes from a strategic conversation down to the weeds too fast, and when you get down to the weeds too fast, the value that you bring isn’t there, and so the stake holders, the client, the customer of the internal team, whoever it is that you’re working with, automatically devalues your value, because you’re asking things that are down here, when they should still be up here –

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Yeah, you have to know your audience for sure.

Craig Nishizaki: Knowing your audience, right.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: But also, like you said, starting with … asking the right questions starting out, with “What problem are we trying to solve?” And you’d be amazed when you get multiple … all the stake holders in a room, and say, “What problem are we trying to solve?” Often, there’s different ideas about what problem are we trying to solve and why?

Craig Nishizaki: Yeah, and getting alignment on that.

Michael Woo: And this sounds very obvious, but knowing how to read a room. Seriously, I mean you literally all the stake holders in a room, and if you’re doing a design review, you have to know what they’re thinking. I can’t emphasize with what’s going on in their minds.

Because, if you’re at the weak level, oh my God … it’s … you’re done at that point, right?

Craig Nishizaki: Yeah. So if you were coaching a newer or a junior designer that’s aspiring, to come into a design review, right? Would one of your tactics be to have them shadow you? Or how would you kind of help them get familiar with reading the room? Or do you feel like that’s something that’s innate to people?

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: It really helps if you can pre … like do some work before the meeting. We also did a whole podcast … I’m sorry to keep – [crosstalk]

Craig Nishizaki: No, this is great –

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: But on UX presentations, [inaudible] presenting your work. And that pre-meeting meeting is really important. Like, find someone else that you can get intel from, you know you have to be a little bit of a detective. And figure out who’s gonna be there, find someone who knows them, figure out what their M.O.s are. There’s really no other way to do it.

You can’t walk into a room blind and find out through talking through the meeting what everyone’s M.O. is. –

Michael Woo: I absolutely agree. I think this … a manager that I had back when I was at [inaudible], so this was years ago, taught me that exact thing, alright? She basically said, “Go into a meeting with a narrative,” right? And that starts with the pre-work.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Yeah, be prepared.

Michael Woo: Right, be prepared. Have a strategy for how you want the discussion to go, but at the same time, you have to almost map out the different scenarios of how it might not go your way, so you’re prepared to pivot, right? You have to do that. The preparation is everything.

Craig Nishizaki: And I think one of the big challenges, and actually one of the more fun challenges oftentimes, is you’re working with someone that’s a visionary, or a change agent, and they haven’t been able to articulate the things that they want. They kind of know where they wanna get to, and so in those types of meetings, the first review, you have to position it as, “The goal today is to swing the pendulum. We’re coming to you based on the information that you’ve provided, and there’s a lot of gaps, and we wanna set the direction.”

So whether they respond positively or negatively, you’re accomplishing your goal. And then they know that there was a purpose there, not just that you totally didn’t understand them when you designed this thing, right? And so it’s being savvy like that in terms of working with those leaders, ’cause the leaders are who’s gonna pull you along with them throughout the organization, right?

Your design work is going to have legs and go without you, and you can’t always be there speaking to it. Is that fair? And so I think that, from all your experience, you both do that. But for those of you who are out there aspiring, learning that lesson I think is a good one.

Michael Woo: I also wanted to add that you have to surround yourself with folks that are outside of your area of expertise, right? Business folks, right? Telling my team to hang out with you, Craig. Have a lunch with you. Sit in on your business development presentations, right? To really understand the lens through how you look at things. Because if you don’t and all we’re doing is hanging around with designers, it’s all we’re gonna know.

You know, so, you can read the resources in the world, which is fine, but really surround yourself with different –

Craig Nishizaki: Be well-rounded.

Michael Woo: Be well-rounded.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: That’s right. It’s really critical and it’s stepping outside your comfort zone sometimes, which is also a really important thing to do is to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Craig Nishizaki: I agree. I think that’s … it’s interesting. A tip that some designers I met, or that I worked with, and that we’ve met outside, is they’ve done improv comedy classes to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: I did that!

Craig Nishizaki: Did you?

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: I did. Yeah. It was a great experience.

Craig Nishizaki: Great experience.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: I totally recommend it.

Craig Nishizaki: Awesome.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: It was very uncomfortable at times.

Craig Nishizaki: Yeah?

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: You know, it actually was fun, though, and I’m so that glad I did it.

Craig Nishizaki: So for those of you out there, improv classes might be the next step to moving on up.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: And it was filled with other people who were just as, or more, uncomfortable than I was, and it’s a safe place.

Craig Nishizaki: Well, we only have a few more minutes left, and I don’t know that we’re gonna get too deep into the next topic around scaling design. For the proving value topic, we’ll post a presentation that Mike and I gave at a CMO summit last year about incorporating design thinking of impactful change.

There’s some stuff in there that I think you can take back as statistics around the value of design, ways to communicate internally, but yet buy in and things like that. So we’ll put that up as a resource as well, if it’s not already up.

Now, we didn’t get into the very tactical things, like around accessibility, and there was a question around nested menus and things like that. We wanted to start with, “Hey, these are the overarching things that people face as challenge, because if you’re not able to have impact and show value and communicate well, those things won’t be heard, right? By the audience or by your stakeholders.

So, I think instead of hitting the scale and design piece, what would be, if you were talking to yourself, 10-15 years ago, as you were kind of coming up the ranks, starting out as an individual contributor and now becoming a leader, what’s some nuggets you would tell yourself, or lessons that you’ve learned. It can be failures, but what would you say?

Michael Woo: Well, for me, I think I’ve learned so much being at an agency. It’s dog-eared, seriously, it’s been not quite five years, but the amount that I had to learn because of the different hats and the different roles, some of it is being forced upon me, which is fine … the uncomfortableness of learning them. But I think if you had a chance to start with an agency, it would probably do better for your career growth, but again, you can’t always control that. Just like me. Started off the other way. Totally fine. That’s just one thing that I’ve realized.

Craig Nishizaki: So at some point in your career, work in a consultancy, an agency, type role.

Michael Woo: Yeah, for sure.

Craig Nishizaki: Okay what would you say?

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: I think for me that being … I wish I knew earlier the importance of being uncomfortable with being uncomfortable and how that’s okay. That internal relationships outside the design group, which feels comfortable, was a key in my leadership. Accelerating quickly in my late 20s, was the ability to connect with developers who are maybe … early and earlier and my career, there was a developer nobody wanted to work him, because he as just so difficult to work with.

But I don’t know how, I just approached it without an ego and tried to … I was sympathetic. I understood that he thought he had been a designer all these top … years, that he had designed the products, that now, I was actually designing … redesigning.

So I came to it with that empathy, and just kind of … that has really done well for me.

Craig Nishizaki: That’s great. We do still have a minute left, but from my perspective, if I were to talk to myself ten years ago, almost ten years into this industry. What I did and what I do on a daily basis is, try to understand what it is you’re working on. I read this book by Malcolm Gladwell years ago that says it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert or become proficient, so that’s five years of full time work.

And sitting down with people who are actually practitioners, leaders, etc., to kind of understand what the challenges are that you’re facing, helps me as a business person get a better lens of how we can impact a great design or impact business, or make it better for designers and developers to work together, and that kind of stuff stirs my cocoa. I get excited about doing that.

And so, thank you guys for your time today. Thank you all for your time today, and we’re gonna post this as a replay, with a transcript as well, and then we’ll get a follow up email out to you all with the resources. So, with that, we’re at the end of our time.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Thank you.

Michael Woo: Thank you.

Craig Nishizaki: Thank you. Alright.

Leigh Allen-Arredondo: Thank you.

Craig Nishizaki: Good bye.