Why CEOs Don't Care About UX and How to Change Their Minds

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August 15, 2017
Why CEOs Don't Care About UX and How to Change Their Minds.
“UX design doesn’t work...And it won’t make us money.” Business executives aren’t all that fond of UX design, or even design in general. It’s an incredibly common problem. Too many executives see good design as an inconvenient expense. At a certain point, executives see UX design as an unnecessary cross to bear. A burden they’re expected to tolerate. If another department needs more money in their budget, design departments are hit first. You know the value of good UX design, they don’t and that’s the problem.

This Isn’t a Problem for Design Driven Companies

What do Apple, Coca-Cola, Herman Miller, Disney, and Target all have in common? They’re all design driven companies. The bad news? Out of the pool of publicly traded companies evaluated by Motive, only 15 companies met the criteria of a design driven company. Others have found the same. So what does this tell us? Most companies aren’t all that interested in good design. UX design and design in general just isn’t a priority. But you know good UX matters. You see the difference good design can make. It’s obvious, anyone can see it if they’re paying attention, so why can’t they? Executives can’t see it because they don’t care. Not even a little bit. They aren’t interested in design as a whole. In fact, most are looking to spend as little on design as they can. Because in their minds it’s just not worth their time. But why? We need to get inside their heads if we want to know the answer.

As Designers, We Speak a Weird Foreign Language

We use words like opacity and kerning and descender as a normal part of our everyday conversations. We argue about design trends, which ones are worth embracing, which ones to avoid. We obsess over tiny, seemingly insignificant details, because we understand the importance small details make. We’re critical of ourselves and other designers in general because we understand the consequences of poor design on a deep and intimate level. It’s intense. And none of that matters. Not a single shred of our world matters to the vast majority of executives. That’s a very big problem. When it’s time to teach executives about the value of good UX design, we choose the wrong approach. We use the wrong vocabulary. Instead of speaking their language, we speak our language. Almost immediately, executives glaze over and tune out. This inevitably leads to:
  • Your ideas being ignored or rejected;
  • A loss of income for you, the company, your customers or all of the above;
  • Dwindling budgets as other departments fight for more money from your department’s budget which means department layoffs;
  • A terrible experience for customers, who spend less money or shop elsewhere, making it harder for your organization to survive.
This wouldn’t be happening if executives understood the value of good design, but most aren’t even willing to hear us out. How on earth are we supposed to change their mind?

Grocery Stores Show us How to Win Hearts and Minds

The competition in your local grocery store is fierce. The shelves are lined with thousands of competing products, all focused on one thing: Getting customers to buy their product instead of a competitor’s. The grocery stores themselves are competing for your attention and your money. It’s a cutthroat environment that only a few stores and some products can survive in. Their secret? Design. Your local grocery store is filled with lots of subtle design elements, these elements are used to get you to buy:
  • Customers bought more bananas if their peels were Pantone color 12-0752 (Buttercup) vs the slightly brighter Pantone color (13-0858 (Vibrant Yellow). Growers altered the color of their bananas to produce the desired color.
  • Store layouts are designed around the user experience. It’s a common strategy for grocery stores to show you the produce section first. The bright colors, fresh produce and pleasant aromas lead you to conclude the store is an inviting and ideal place to buy food.
  • Product designers mark up prices strategically on products with strong brand loyalty. Remember the Pepsi Challenge? Pepsi conducted a blind taste test, asking consumers whether they preferred the taste of Pepsi or Coca-Cola. Pepsi won, but consumers continued to buy Coca-Cola. This happens all the time. It’s why people consistently choose the $90 bottle of wine over a $10 bottle, even if the only difference is price.
  • Grocery stores are designed to be traps. A well known study found that people spent 34 percent more time shopping in stores that played music. These stores hide time cues to keep you inside. No clocks, windows or skylights. The rationale goes like this: The longer you stay the more you’ll buy.
  • Product placement on shelves. This study found kid friendly foods are placed at kids’ eye-level. The characters on cereal boxes make eye contact with kids, a clever way to increase influence and sales. Expensive items are placed higher while inexpensive items are placed near the bottom shelves.
There are thousands of examples like these. The process, environment, imagery, ambiance and displays in grocery stores are all designed. And here’s the interesting part. Grocery store executives support these design conventions wholeheartedly. Their executives have fully embraced UX design. Can you see why? Designers and executives spoke the same language. Executives don’t care about design for design’s sake. Rather, they view design as a means to an end. A way to attract more customers and sales. A way to grow their business. But the examples above are manipulative and sleazy! I completely agree. Does that mean you need to approach things the same way they did? Of course not. It goes without saying, you should be honest and above-board with everything you do. But to change an executive’s mind you’ll need to think and talk like an executive.

What Exactly Are Executives Thinking About?

They’re thinking about results. They have a very specific set of problems they’re required to solve on behalf of the company. An executive’s thought process basically boils down to three basic problems.
  1. Will this save money?
  2. Will this make money?
  3. Will this cut costs?
The vast majority of their desires, goals, fears, frustrations and problems tie back to these three problems in some way. Getting customers, selling more product, making more money, it’s all part of it. An executive’s language is based almost entirely around one of these three core problems. What does that mean for you? A request that’s focused on “What’s best for users” is far less likely to work. A request that’s positioned and presented properly is far more likely to succeed. Here’s what that looks like:
  • “We’ll be able to blow past Q3 projections if we make these four UX changes.”
  • “We’re losing $467,891 a month. We have some UX problems here, here and here that would stop the financial bleeding.”
  • “We can get a 1/3 increase in revenue overnight with these UX design ideas.”
  • “Right now, we’re losing 8 out of 10 customers on our site. With the right UX design, I can get that down to 4 out of 10.”
  • “We can get 1/4 of our customers to spend $250 more per order, per month if we make these UX changes.”
See what I did there? I know, I know it’s loathsome. The last thing many of us want to do as designers is talk business, sales or marketing. Anything but that. I get it. Here’s the thing. When you speak the same language as executives you communicate value in a way they can understand. They aren’t as worried about looking stupid, protecting their egos or acting as if they understand the finer points of your job. They’re focused squarely on the things that matter to them. Get these details right and they look like the hero. Do this consistently, and they’ll slowly begin to understand They’ll begin to see why good UX design matters. Why design, as a concept matters far more than they think. And more importantly, they’ll understand why design can help them hit the goals they’re desperate to achieve. Pitch your ideas the right way, get inside the mind of your executives and you still may fail. That’s part of the risk. That risk drops dramatically however, if you’re focused on them. Pursuing things this way sends an important message. It shows executives that you understand them. That you’re willing to take their concerns seriously and you’re willing to invest in them. This is huge because it shows you have potential, that you’re someone they can count on for the future. All because you decided to speak their language.

Executives Think UX Design Doesn’t Work

They’re wrong, but they don’t know it. Their subconscious impression is, UX design doesn’t work and it won’t make us money. Business executives aren’t all that fond of UX design, or design in general. It’s viewed as fluff, an unnecessary cross to bear. It’s up to you. You know the value of good UX design. You can change their perceptions, but only if you can speak their language. Start small, showing executives you can make a difference. With consistent effort and lots of patience, your company can become a design driven company.

Andrew McDermott

Andrew McDermott is the co-founder of HooktoWin.com. Want an unlimited supply of free leads for your freelance business? Download your copy of The Dragnet Method.

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