[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity.]
Welcome back to our 2-part interview with Sarah Doody, user experience designer, product strategist, and design educator.
Last time, we talked about her career trajectory, the democratization of UX design, thinking like a designer, and the 5 qualities every designer should have. You can find the first part of our conversation here.
Let’s revisit the subject of stubborn stakeholders. How do you navigate that relationship when you have somebody who's very opinionated about what they want?
Well, the first thing I always do is ask them what research they’ve done to know that this feature or design or whatever is something that people actually want. And normally, 2 things happen: Either they say, “we haven't done/don’t have time for research” or they say, “oh yeah, we did research, and we talked to my brother and my cousin and my neighbor.”
If it’s the case that a company just will not do much research, I try to figure out what is the minimum viable research that we could do. I try to find out the things that matter to these people the most—what metric or business objective matters to them. And then go research around that.
So if this were an ecommerce site, for example, and the stakeholders were adamant about doing something crazy to the homepage but they were also worried about revenue, then I would go do research around the specific thing that's going to influence that metric, and then take the findings back to them. And I would make sure that that research is really, really, evidence-based.
When I teach people research, I say: Basically, you have to think like you're a lawyer and you're going to trial and you need to be armed with evidence. Because when you're in the courtroom and you hold up that photo or that video of the defendant robbing the bank, it becomes hard to deny, right?
In our case, the evidence has to be, for example, video of someone struggling through that version of the homepage that they think is the best thing on earth. Video is best, but quotes from users are also amazing because they’re not your words, it's the user's words. But the absolute best thing is to get those stakeholders into a room with users and have them watch folks go through a product in real time.
That’s great. Now, I’d like to change tack and talk about something we hear a lot about, but which can sometimes feel ill-defined: Accessibility vs inclusivity in design.
I feel like accessibility is a little bit more defined and understood because we know that relates to making your product work for people with different needs—needs that are outside the norm or average. That means thinking of things such as color blindness, or hearing impairment, etc—or even making sure your website can be used by people who don’t have a mouse.
But I feel that inclusivity is a bit more blurry as a topic, because it’s so buzzwordy. So I’ve spent some time researching this for myself and I came across a few really great articles. One's on the Adobe blog, one's on Fast Company, and they both allude to the idea that accessibility is the goal—we want our products to be accessible, usable by everyone, etc—and inclusivity is the process, rather than the end result.
Inclusivity is about making sure that your team is not just designing for these known needs, but that you are including the right people in your design process to make sure you also identify unknown needs that you didn't even think of beforehand. And that I think is going to come through more usability testing and by expanding the diversity of the people that you interview.
So, accessibility is the goal and inclusivity is the process.
That’s really helpful. Moving on to some other buzzwords... Can you talk to me about consumer-grade and the consumerization of B2B products?
Many of my clients come to me and say: “We want to be like Airbnb,” or “we want to be as polished as Slack,” and so on. And I think they're referring to 2 things: the visual design (the polish) and the usability of these products, how seamless a lot of these user flows are.
And a lot of B2B companies are wanting to be more consumer-y and have slick design. But I actually think that there's a balance that needs to be struck. You know, when do you let the design overshadow the product or the service?
One of my students was just writing up a case study for her portfolio, and it was all about this ecommerce site that was so overly designed that in usability testing, people thought it was a fashion blog because the founder was so adamant that the homepage not follow the common patterns of an ecommerce site.
If you look at a lot of backend software—some medical billing systems or portals, for example—it’s terrible! And on one hand, you think these need a redesign, but on the other hand: What's the cost of redesigning this? Not the dollar cost—the cost to the people working at that clinic or in that billing department who have used that system for years, maybe decades? And what would it do to their workflow to change that?
So I think as much as we designers want to come in and make everything look like a B2C product, we need to ask ourselves if that’s really the right course.
I'm actually doing that right now. I'm working on this health insurance product and I know that when we get to the design phase they’re going to want to make it very consumer-y. But we also have to make sure that it is still familiar to the end users and that they don’t end up feeling like they have to completely relearn their entire workflow.
Excellent. Now, I’d love to know: What are some of your favorite products from an end user’s perspective?
So I just moved and I need to buy a car. And I have not purchased a car in about 15 years. I felt very intimidated by the idea of going to a dealership and everything. And I forget how I heard about it, but there's this product called Carvana. And their whole deal is that they take the friction out of car buying. I love them. I actually bought a car on Carvana on February 15th and made an Instagram story about it. The great thing about the experience is that it made the entire process so easy. And that was partly because they built an amazing website and interface and user flows and so on—but importantly, they’ve also made sure that the experience beyond the screen is solid as well.
A website is only as great as the content inside of it. So they take these amazing 360 photos—you can see everything. And you don't negotiate—the price is the price. There's also an app and when your car is getting delivered you can GPS track it and see where it is along the way. Mine is coming tomorrow, apparently.
It’s obvious that they really thought through the user experience and how that extends beyond the screen.
Would you consider that an omnichannel experience?
Totally omni. And another cool thing is (and of course this is sort of a marketing play, but still...) if you live in one of their key market cities, you can go get your car in person and there's all this fanfare and the car comes out of a vending machine. I don't live in one of these markets, so my car is coming with zero fanfare on some third-party truck from Texas. So I'm a little disappointed about that.
That sounds incredible. I love a good vending machine.
Yeah, and here's the thing: They thought this through enough to realize that if your car is not going to come wrapped all up with a bow on it—and my car is going to come on some truck and it's going to be exposed to all the elements—that the end user is going to want to clean it. So they also are sending me a 50 dollar gift card so I can get it cleaned. But I don't know, I'll probably buy wine.
So that's just another example of how they really thought through the whole user experience.
How great to have a UX that truly transcends the screen. Now to wrap things up, can you tell us: When is design “done”?
At a high level, it's never done. Because as a designer, you're always coming up with new ideas or learning something from your customers. Or technology has changed such that you can do new things or do things more efficiently. Or all of a sudden you wake up and there's a new device. There was no iPhone 12 years ago, for instance. Heck, there was no iPhone at all! So in that respect, it's never done.
But if you’re asking when something is ready to launch, I think it’s “done” when you have enough of the experience literally pieced together that you can figure out if people want this product and will they pay for it?
So often, people want the MVP, they want to launch and get their idea out—but then the bloat comes when teams spend weeks or months on minor details: “I don't like this color,” or “we should change this font,” etc. It doesn't matter. You can deal with that later. What you need to do is get it out there and hopefully validate your research and find out if people will pay for the thing you made.
When you have things stitched together, it’s done enough.
Great answer. And with that, I think we’re done ourselves. Thanks for your time, Sarah!
Sarah Doody is a user experience designer, product strategist, and design educator. She is a contributing author to UX Magazine, InVision, UX Mastery, UX Matters, and has been published in the New York Times. She also co-developed and taught General Assembly’s first 12-week User Experience Design Immersive, as well as teaching her own UX courses. She can be found on Twitter (@sarahdoody) and at sarahdoody.com.