What Every UX Designer Needs to Know About Negotiating
We recently asked a number of UX experts about their non-negotiables when it comes to designing great user experiences, but one designer in particular found the concept rather amusing.
“I smile (inwardly) when I contemplate the term ‘non-negotiable’ together with ‘great’ and ‘experience’ because in these times of changing technology, emerging design techniques and business pressures, it’s often incumbent on user experience designers to be the greatest of negotiators,” said Shannah Segal, co-founder and principal of the award-winning UX design studio Usability Matters based out of Toronto, Canada.
A little give and take is a fundamental aspect of working on any team or with any client, which means it’s also a good skill for any savvy designer to master.
Of course, effective negotiation is easier said than done. That’s why we asked Segal her secrets for pushing back without sacrificing your professionalism.
5 Negotiation Tips for UX Designers
1. Stay focused on business or user objectives
When negotiating, it’s important to base alternative solution ideas on the problem you’re trying to solve, not necessarily on favorites, familiarity or best practices. “It’s tricky and I think at the core of it is making sure the negotiation is not about personal preference or desires, but is actually about solving the problem that’s on the table,” Segal said.
2. Back it up with data
“What helps when negotiating is having the right data at hand,” Segal said.
Her team gathers this data largely by consulting with users. This helps them learn how users actually think despite what a design team, client or another stakeholder’s perceptions or opinions may be.
Primary research is ideal, but it’s not the only way to gather the information needed to negotiate effectively. Here are some of the ways Segal recommends consulting with users:
- Usability testing
- Focus groups (even small, informal ones)
- Individual interviews
- Desk research (what users have said about similar problems)
“The important thing is having some sort of rationale or reason for pushing for a certain type of solution,” Segal said.
3. Come prepared with notes
This tip is especially helpful for designers who may not be used to presenting or advocating their points in public. Whether this is an issue for you or not, coming to a meeting prepared with conversation points will help you stay focused and get your point across more effectively.
“It’s hard sometimes for people to think theoretically or conceptually about things without seeing something in front of them,” Segal said.
These notes (charts, mock-ups or whatever your preferred method may be) could include examples of why something didn’t work, or ideas for other directions the team can (or maybe should not) take.
“Don’t be scared to put on the table things that you don’t think are a good idea, just say why they’re not a good idea,” she said. “Sometimes people are afraid to show someone a bad idea because what if they love it? But what if they love it anyway and you don’t have any conversation points around it?”
4. There is no “I” in “team”
Understanding how your team functions could be your secret weapon. Some people work best through dialogue, while others prefer email or collaborative tools like Basecamp. “Discovering what channels work best for your team is really important,” Segal says.
Beyond this, it’s also crucial to take a walk in an opposing player’s proverbial shoes. How you push for something can make all the difference between whether you’re able to negotiate effectively or not. By being empathetic and keeping the negotiation on the issues at hand, it can become a collaborative group effort rather than a battle to convince somebody of a particular point of view.
“Sometimes that can be to understand the perspectives of the user, but sometimes that can be to understand the perspective of the person sitting across the table from me who is part of my team,” Segal said. “Maybe they have other things on their plate, or certain requirements or restraints that I don’t. How can I understand where they’re coming from?”
5. Be persistent, but patient
Finally, remember that it can sometimes take a while for people to get on board, especially when there’s money involved.
Segal spoke of a time where it took 10 weeks to convince a client to go forward with user consultations. By mentioning its benefits and providing examples of other successes in every meeting, her team was eventually able to persuade the client to take the leap and not to base their proposed solution on assumptions.
“What we found out was that the product works great for a certain target audience, but it was not the audience they intended the product for,” Segal said. “I think the key was that gentle persistence paid off in the end.”