Selling the UX Design Process Through Storytelling

How do you sell UX? This is a question that’s near and dear to the hearts of all User Experience Designers. While it’s very easy for us to point out good and bad UX for websites in the hypothetical, it’s very hard to get the budget to actually deliver great work.

As UX Designers, we know it’s important to put in the effort to educate our clients. A few years ago, there was a focus on the question, ‘what is UX and why is it important?’ Clients would be shown a ‘before and after’ comparison, and a few savvy folks made the leap of faith and were rewarded with great results.

We’ve definitely made some progress since then. Many clients are starting to embrace the idea that UX has value because users are attracted to brands with products and websites that are easy to use. What clients are still missing, though, is the knowledge of what goes into creating great experiences. When they see the costs associated with the process — doing research, A/B testing etc. — they balk. The main obstacle between a UX designer and a client is that the latter doesn’t understand why the process takes as much effort as it does. Fortunately, we’re now at a stage of reaching further understanding: yes, UX is important, and here is how we make it happen.

According to a 2012 study by the Corporate Executive Board, nearly 60% of B2B purchase decisions are made before the first conversation with the supplier. Online resources play a big role in this decision, and that’s why it’s crucial to talk about UX design process in our case studies.

When I saw the recent Smashing Magazine article, “Designing Case Studies: Showcasing A Human-Centered Design Process”, I immediately thought about how relevant this is for UX. The article discusses the importance of focusing a case study around the design process instead of only highlighting the deliverables. This approach is perfect for UX design, where the process means so much more than the design artifact. I want to elaborate further on this point by discussing how storytelling can get the job done.

Have a Problem? Make it a Story

Stories have always been an integral part of our culture as a means to entertain, to share experiences and to pass on knowledge. Everyone loves a good story, so what better way to hold people’s attention than to transform a dry case study into a riveting tale? People engage with stories they can relate to. You want your prospect to think, ‘yes, this is exactly like the problem I’m dealing with, I should keep reading’. Talk about the client in your case study, the nature of the project and what problems you were trying to solve. State clear and concrete goals so that your prospects can insert themselves into the tale and imagine it for their own projects.

Spice Up Your Case Study

Once you’ve set up the story, it’s time to start the adventure. Character development and complications along the way make any story way more interesting. If you’ve conducted user interviews, don’t just talk about them, narrate them with interesting tidbits from key participants. Did a certain user mention something that made you have an aha! moment? Turn him or her into a character in your story. Consider including a photo of them (with permission, of course) along with some direct quotations and your insight.

The same idea applies to the obstacles faced along the way. Challenges are a good way to keep people engaged. While it may seem like sharing the problems you face with potential clients detracts from your competence, trying different ideas and testing them is all part of the design process. These bumps along the road are why design takes time, and the more glimpses people get into the depth of UX design process, the easier it is for them to value the process.

Illustrate Research and Takeaways

Remember bedtime stories as a kid, and how looking at the pictures told as much of a story as hearing the words? The same should be true for your case studies. For each artifact produced, it’s important to present it in relation to your process.

Suppose you’ve conducted a card sort. While it’s nice to see a photo of a table full of index cards, the average prospect probably doesn’t know what a card sort is, let alone how to interpret the results. It’s your job as the storyteller to summarize and interpret these findings. A diagram showing patterns of how testers aggregate items and name categories in the card sort will help flush out the story.

And don’t forget: at the end of the day the client needs to justify the extra cost for UX design. Numbers and analytics help illustrate the benefits of user research, so share your quantitative results and emphasize how these numbers influenced important design decisions.

Quote Users and Team Members

We all know how important client testimonials are when it comes to case studies. What is equally important in painting the UX design process is quoting the participants. Quotations from users and testers can illuminate key usability concerns addressed in the redesign. Also useful are comments from your team describing their process that leads to an Aha! moment. Quotations from the team showcase who you are and the passion you have for your work, which is important because ultimately, user experience is about people. Your clients look to you to be their guide for the success of a project. Your prospects must feel the same, so be open from the start and your prospects will quickly learn to trust you as much as your retainer clients.

Continue the Theme in Creative Briefs and Proposals

When it comes time to present the creative brief or proposal, be sure to outline the work in the same way you’ve described it in your case study. Using the same or similar terms will help jolt people’s memories. Your prospects will recall the importance of each phase in the brief, and will feel confident that they’re making the right decision in having the project done right.

Want tips on writing better creative briefs? Function Point offers free creative brief templates with excellent pointers on what to include and what to leave out of your briefs. Check them out.

Cheryl Chung

Cheryl Chung

UX / Interaction Architect

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