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If you work in UX design or research, it’s possible that you may have had a situation or two (or five) where you’re pulling your hair out because you aren’t being given the time and resources to understand your users.

You and I both know that investing in understanding the user experience as it relates to actual people is the absolute key to delivering a good customer experience, and that your ability to do so affects whether or not your team meets its KPIs. 

So why does senior management often buy into user research myths or look at UX as 'fluffy stuff' that can be cut down for the sake of time and cost savings? More importantly, what can you do about it? Let’s get into it.

Why Your Leadership Doesn’t Understand The ROI Of UX

Every product leader knows that you need UX designers, but they often look at design as a hard skill with a concrete deliverable, ignoring the process that precedes quality user interfaces and leads to key performance indicator wins. In other words, the misconception is that the value of UX design is to move pixels around so that you can ship product iterations fast.

While it’s true that the design deliverable is a user experience, complete with UI, that is the crown on top of every new product initiative—leaders are often unaware of the need for UX research methodologies such as interviewing users, competitive landscaping, concept testing, and usability testing. Furthermore, they’re likely unaware that design thinking is a creative and time-intensive process that comes before devising a final design.

So, part of the reason that you’re not given adequate time and resources to optimize your design process properly is that your leadership doesn’t understand what that means.  

Moreover, and perhaps even more significantly, here’s another reason: as a discipline, user experience professionals have struggled to explain and substantiate the return on investment of proper UX work. So, how could they know?

Let’s walk through exactly what the ROI of UX is, and how to communicate it to product leadership. 

The Business Value and Impact of UX Done Well

Every product team has goals, and those goals are generally measured by a series of metrics—usually referred to as KPIs. Those metrics can be things like conversion rate, lifetime value (LTV) of a user, retention, session time, and so on. Leadership is looking at these metrics and determining whether or not the overall business is moving in the right direction, which makes sense.

But what fails to come through, particularly in times of pressure, is that these metrics are simply indicators. Indicators of what? Indicators that you’re solving real problems and giving real value to your users.

In other words, if your product gives genuine value to your target audience, they pay. They engage. They tell their friends. You grow. You meet your goals. 

So, knowing your way around Figma or being an Adobe god[dess] isn’t enough to meet your product team’s goals. You have to take the time to get into the mind of the user and understand their needs in a nuanced way so that you can deliver a user experience that can help your team hit those coveted metrics. 

Usability testing is a great example of how this works, if you’re struggling to think of something concrete. Nielsen Norman estimates that even an extremely minimal usability test will likely find around 85% of UX issues in a given product flow. 85%! This means that before shipping a product iteration, you can get some assurance that you’re releasing something with a very good chance of not failing in its execution. Your users are less likely to get stuck trying to do something, and you can be sure that you’ll see the impact in the data.


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User Experience investment —> More value + intuitive experience to users —> KPI achievements.

Strategies For Convincing Leadership To Invest In UX

Okay, maybe you’re convinced, but how do you get your leadership to give you the time and resources you need to do UX research, workshopping, and other user-centered work before you deliver your final designs?  Here are some tips and strategies. 

1. Replace design jargon with management jargon.

When you and your team are conceptualizing a product initiative and creating a timeline, which will likely include a delivery date, your management team will likely want you to substantiate the amount of time that you’ve allotted to work. This is precisely where I see a lot of product managers and designers go wrong, so let me say it loudly for the people in the back: don’t ask for time to do user experience research and/or creative exploration.

Okay, the caveat is that if you happen to work at an organization that already understands the ROI of UX, you can use those terms. But then again, if that were the case, would you even be reading this?! So, for the rest of us, let me explain.

To leadership outside of UX, words like research, exploration, creative process, and so on sound like this: extra time.  Since those processes precede the deliverable, they want to cut them out. Save your exploring for nights and weekends, and start on the UI so that we can get this out before the end of Q1, is most likely what’s going through their heads.

Fair enough. But a strategy that sometimes works is to use business goal-oriented language for these parts of the process so that management can more easily internalize their value. For example, dedicating two days to business value measurement—where you’re doing some concept testing using your go-to user research tools—gives the very true impression that you’re doing a check on whether or not how you’ve conceptualized your new feature actually answers a pressing need for your users. 


What if you told your stakeholder that you're allotting some time to 'check for bugs and blockers,' which will probably go over better than ‘usability testing?’ This works because words like 'bugs' and 'blockers,' which you’ll definitely be searching for in your usability testing, conjure up visions of initiatives that fail before they start.

The overall message here is that when you want time to dedicate to a proper UX process to influence overall customer satisfaction, think about the business value of the tasks that you’ll be doing, whether it’s research or exploration. Then, articulate the process in a way that reflects the business value rather than design and UX terms that feel superfluous to managers outside of your field. 

2. Show deliverables to stakeholders as you move through your process.

Once you’ve spoken the language of management and scored the time you need, you'll want to think more long-term. Essentially, you want to start educating the stakeholders around you, management included, about the value of these UX-oriented processes— whether you’re doing research, exploration, or something else. 

Often, we squeeze in our UX work and the higher-ups really only see the final design. In that case, you can’t really blame them for not understanding the true value of the user experience work that comes before the final UI—because it’s essentially invisible. To help lead your colleagues to the water in terms of understanding the value of UX, start showing deliverables as you go.


What if you were to do usability testing on a Figma prototype of your initial concept and then share clips and main research points in a Slack channel that is widely followed? Make sure you share your insights in the context of potential business impact to help leadership see the connection between the stuff that comes before UI design (like prototyping and user testing) and business goals. So you might say something like: users struggled to find X after completing Y in the flow, which could impact completion and therefore conversion rate. In the next version, we’ll solve this problem by doing Z.

Here, it’s hard to deny that usability testing found an issue that could have directly affected a business KPI before release—that’s a win from everyone’s perspective!

3. Ask to do a Proof of Concept (POC) for longer-term user experience research

Sometimes, user experience involves doing more time-intensive work to understand not only how users interact with a specific interface but also how they think, what their challenges are, and the 'why' behind their typical behaviors and patterns.

The product and design team knows that this is crucial because this is exactly the kind of information about your user base that allows you to ideate and prioritize product initiatives that are more likely to succeed. But sometimes, all your leadership team hears is two weeks of no deliverables from the product team.

Here is your secret weapon: a POC. Leadership teams that have not yet experienced the magic of dedicating time to the work behind the actual product design will probably be reluctant to give you extra time for things like user interviews or participatory design groups. But just like you, leadership wants to win. So don’t ask them to change a process or to elongate timelines in general—ask to try it out just once.  Tell your team that you think that dedicating some time to these initiatives will help drive business value and that you want to try it out this time. Ideally, what will happen is that you will get great insights that lead to great product work.

After your POC, you can create a short presentation showing that the UX insights coming from your exploratory or research work led directly to product decisions that drove business value.

4. Do internal marketing of your UX exploration and research

If you want your organization to get behind UX, you need to help them understand the value by doing some internal marketing. Internal marketing, in this case, means doing some or all of the following:

  • Sharing user research results in public places, along with spelling out the bottom line and how those insights affect product decisions and therefore KPIs.
  • Meeting with key stakeholders to show your exploratory work—such as initial prototypes and research results—in order to have conversations that feel goal-oriented and a good use of time.
  • Dedicate a few slides to showing the process when presenting the results of an experiment or initiative. Be loud and proud about your competitive analysis, usability testing, user interviews, or whatever.

In other words, instead of trying to do UX quickly and quietly, try to do it quickly and publicly. Over time, the organization as a whole inevitably begins to understand that these tasks are a part of a quality design process.

Truth Is On Your Side.

As you embark on your mission to draw the connection between user experience and things like revenue and customer retention, just know that if you use our strategies, your success is more or less guaranteed. Why? Because UX isn’t the crazy idea of some random weirdo—it’s a full-fledged field that has grown by leaps and bounds over decades due to the simple fact that investing in it drives real business results.

So yes, sometimes you have to spell things out to leadership that thinks it’s a waste of time, but that’s all a part of the process of UX maturation—and a good outcome is more or less guaranteed.

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By Cori Widen

Cori Widen currently leads the UX Research team at Lightricks. She worked in the tech industry for 10 years in various product marketing roles before honing in on her passion for understanding the user and transitioning to research.