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Demonstrating the impact of human-centred approaches — Further reflections from the UCD Gathering conference

The UCD Gathering conference offered a string of sessions with advice on making the case for human-centred approaches in an organisation.

UCD Gathering website

This is the second of two blog posts reflecting on what I learned at the conference

Read the previous blog post — Lessons on readability and bias

Showing business impact

The material of outcomes

Linn Vizard capped day one with a thought-provoking session about how we understand outcomes of service design work. This is a topic that has been on my mind a fair bit recently.

Linn Vizard hypothesises that designers’ ability to “make something out of nothing” gives them a false sense of control. But, she said, “it was never about the thing.” There is no inherent value in products. Their value comes from their use and exchange.

This idea comes from a concept from economics called service-dominant logic. This shows that all economic activity is ultimately driven by services, not products (Mauricio Manhães 2018, This is Service Design Doing, pp. 29–31).

One way of understanding this is through different types of chairs. A chair could be an ergonomic support to help you work in your office. A different chair enables you to eat your dinner at the table. A step stool helps you reach the top shelf. Some chairs are primarily status symbols. Wheelchairs help people be more mobile. Other chairs are designed as works of art.

Each of them are chairs. But they all offer people different services, so their value is derived in different ways.

Value is co-created through exchange. For Linn Vizard, outcomes are co-created value that occurs throughout the service design process. She described it as “total co-creation of value”.

How do we know that service design is working? Good outcomes might be changes to what people think and feel. We want to demonstrate a change in people’s feeling over time.

Outcomes like this of service design work are often intangible. So, says Linn Vizard, designers need to let go of their attachment to control.

Designing decision making to deliver better experiences

If the idea of losing control of the outcomes of our work seems scary, a pragmatic approach to demonstrating impact was outlined by the AA’s Angela Arnold the following day.

Like Linn Vizard, she noted that measurements cease to be useful once they become a target. Organisations often default to using metrics that are readily available — things like traffic, conversion and velocity.

  • If you measure traffic, you create more content.
  • If you measure conversion, you stick banner ads all over the place.
  • If you measure velocity, you just build stuff more quickly.

These all amount to a bad user experience. So we have to change the way we measure things.

This is a problem because quantitative measures are often not attributable to everyday design decisions. Meanwhile, qualitative approaches are good for understanding design decisions, but often not attributable to shifting business metrics.

Angela Arnold said we need to start correlating our metrics. So instead of having random sets of metrics flying around, start to tell stories in a more connected way.

Our job as designers is to facilitate better decision making. This is key because some people don’t like user experience, and don’t like words like “discovery”, because it sounds intangible and it sounds like we’re not going to deliver something. When you’re working in a business that delivers outcomes, you need to help teams focus on delivering the right thing and delivering value.

Design and strategy — Why and how to mind other people’s business

This leads us on to the session from Morgane Peng of Societe Generale. She talked about how different types of stakeholders can be blockers to good design.

While it can be tempting to point the finger at stakeholders who don’t “get” design, Morgane Peng pointed out that it’s important to realise it’s not their fault. The root causes are down to issues around culture, the organisation and business.

Among her tips to tackle these issues:

  • Ask our stakeholders questions
  • Highlight good examples from other departments to create a “fear of missing out”
  • Clarify methodologies and explain procedure
  • Speak the organisation’s language, by “hacking” your explanations (for example if your organisation is risk averse, talk about how your approach helps avoid risk)
  • Present ourselves as providing a business solution, not just “pushing pixels”

A blog post and video version of this talk is available — I highly recommend it:

Scaling UX impact despite dwindling resources

Similar themes emerged from Roy Opata Olende’s session. He spoke about his experience of demonstrating the impact of user experience when he worked at Buffer. He said that fewer resources doesn’t have to mean less impact.

He highlighted the importance of allies. They don’t just come from nowhere. We need to cultivate these relationships. Who can help you achieve your goals, and how can you work with them to further your progress.

The main thing on senior managers’ minds is not user experience. It’s improved business position. So talk in terms of business goals.

Easy documentation for user research

Kyree Holmes from Spotify shared her tips for giving research a voice in the decision-making process. She says we need to consider the user experience of user experience — a thought I’ve often had. She said: “We have formulas or an established way. But how often do we evaluate that?”

She shared a number of creative and engaging ways of presenting research. She said thinking creatively about how we bring our documentation to stakeholders helps make it more sustainable, and builds in meaningful sense-checks to monitor effectiveness.

Collaborative analysis for agile teams

This session had limited capacity, so unfortunately I was unable to attend. But two University colleagues, Amanda Sammarco (from the School of Informatics) and Gayle Whittaker (from the Prospective Student Web Content team), were able to join, and they both said it was a key highlight of the conference. Thank you to both of them for supplying their notes for this blog post.

Hilary Chan and Elaine Martel from DXW walked participants through a tutorial on running a co-analysis session, where a cross-functional team analyses user research together.

They highlighted how it helps a team build collective knowledge, giving non-researchers first-hand exposure to data, bringing them closer to users. Involving multiple people also helps avoid bias.

Their digital whiteboard activity walked participants through how to collaboratively understand good prompts to help guide the analysis.

They outlined that unhelpful prompts are:

  • Yes or no questions
  • Tied to validating a preconceived solution
  • Not aligned with research activity or approach
  • Too vague


In summary:

  • Be creative about demonstrating impact
  • Speak the language of your organisation
  • Do the hard work to make your processes inclusive

Join the human-centred network

More than 100 people are now in our supportive community of practice on Microsoft Teams. Join the conversation with colleagues from a variety of disciplines across the University to discuss how we can all make our decision-making more human-centred.

Join the human-centred network

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