What is User Experience (UX)?

UX is a process, an approach, a way of thinking and an outcome. Outcome, in particular, is the key aspect to UX’s value. Are you solving a real problem? Are you tackling something meaningful to people? Are you bettering the organization, the system, the… whatever? I hope so. Otherwise, you’re selling an inferior product (be it a physical thing, a service, an idea, etc.).

Let’s also be clear that outcomes are not journey maps or competitive analyses or any number of other artifacts that will be generated during the course of a project. As much as possible, we want to get out of the deliverables business within agency/client relationships because artifacts aren’t valuable outcomes. They’re indeed important stepping stones in the value creation process (especially internally for the project team), but they are not the final outcome where customers will benefit from real, tangible value in the form of solutions to their problems.

How Can UX Be Sold?

If you’re a UX practitioner (agency or otherwise), you will inevitably need to pitch clients and craft proposals to win work. In doing so, you want to avoid selling the constituent parts of UX — the deliverables you may or may not create and the methodological details employed to complete the job. These things introduce complexity into the discussion and clients may associate complexity with greater cost, longer timelines, hard to manage processes and bigger headaches all around.

As an analogy, Benedict Evans made the case in a presentation that software isn’t eating the world so much as tech is outgrowing the tech industry. By this he means that new companies are being created that use technology but are not technology companies per se. Similarly, a user experience agency uses UX methodologies, produces needed deliverables, and employs professionals with highly refined skills, but those are not the things it sells outright. Buyers need solutions to problems, organizational silos bridged, existing products and services analyzed, customer insight, recommendations and more. All of these UX details amount to stepping stones that get your client to whichever outcome they need (and which may change as the project evolves).

In essence, UXers sell informed decision making and clients buy the value those decisions bring them. Talking about anything else only serves to confuse and complicate. Go into details if requested. Otherwise, tread lightly.

What, Exactly, is Informed Decision Making?

Some clients will think a completed, ‘tangible’ product like an app or redesigned feature set is being bought. They are, after all, the easy things to spot and are likely the things they brought up during the sales process. An argument that these things are valuable outcomes can be made, absolutely. They’re the things the client’s customers will use and derive benefit from. And the client will also claim value in whatever form the final project takes — they can point they’re bosses to it and say “we bought that.”

From the UX agency’s perspective (and the companies that share the same vision), informed decision making is the value on sale. The thing is the inevitable product that materializes in a process predicated upon the belief that we don’t (and can’t) know ahead of time exactly what needs to be created. Agencies ask questions, unravel problems, advocate for people, and make sense out of chaos. They consider context, bring stakeholders together, adapt as change occurs, and continuously learn. Agencies facilitate the ability for clients to make good choices for themselves, their customers and their stakeholders. The research, analysis, synthesis, exploration and iteration is what drives a team from point A to point B. A thousand decisions will be made during the course of a project and adding those up is the true value a UX agency offers to clients— making the right decisions at the right time for the right person.

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