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This seems to be a regular question that comes up during conversations at work. We provide solutions to corporate companies but the end users are inevitably consumers. We seem to be in a Design by Committee whirlpool at the moment with little authority in terms of UI designs as they have only recently starting taking notice of getting the UI right.

Our designs are often viewed by senior managers who have been used to the likes of green screen for the better part of 20 years and seem to be stuck in the thought process of “Corporate branding needs to look really boring and bland.”

They seem to be pretty happy with a little splash of colour with little thought for the overall application experience. In their minds it seems to be corporate styles need to be boring boxes and not really give much thought to layout and consumer styles need to be flashy and stand out with lots of visuals.

This kind of mindset gets me frustrated on a daily basis and I often hear “It looks too much like consumer branding, I want corporate so make it look dull”.

Firstly I know the whole “Your client has the final say and you need to do what they ask” response may appear but what if they are still in the mindset of UI isn’t important and “we need to make it look like the stuff they used to use”.

How do you break that barrier and bring them into the modern era?

Even if it is kicking and screaming!

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4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Great question. From the viewpoint of an evil rhetorician, the short answer is "build a more convincing argument." You're already asking that, so it seems what you need is techniques to improve your argument and, in turn, your persuasiveness. I've found that one of the best ways to get buy-in is to get the client to come to your own decision without feeling like it was fed to him/her.

In its most effective form, this technique is pretty much the cartoon trope where Bugs Bunny and Elmer argue, then Bugs takes Elmer's position, Elmer unknowingly takes Bugs' and ends up doing what Bugs wanted all along.

One way to do this is through a best-of-class "switch-er-oo" examples. An anecdote:

We had a corporate web site redesign and the client stakeholders were having troubles getting away from their current site (a thing perfectly reasonable in 2001). Mockups weren't performing well in reviews, so we took a step back and tried a different approach.

We performed a "study" of their direct and tangential competitors, pulling front pages together and highlighting mistakes and inefficiencies. Then, instead of showing them positive examples from their industry we showed them successes in best-of-breed from other industries. We used BMW's USA site and Apple's main site. While most designers will yawn at the choices, it was an effective argument. The stakeholders were much more receptive to our design afterwards, being able to say "We're going to be the BMW/Apple of _."

It was also effective because they were the ones to decide to take the Apple/BMW route. While we were just showing good / bad design, what they saw was

  1. Their industry makes bad design choices
  2. If they make similar choices they will just be following their industry
  3. If they make different choices they can lead their industry
  4. They can be like Apple / BMW (what can I say, sex sells :) )

They were the ones to say "Try it like those last couple," and even though we'd been doing that before, they were the ones to "think of it" so we had our buy-in.

Being the apt business persons they are, your clients will be focused on their own industry, trends, competitors, etc. They will see what others are doing and it will shape the schemata in their epistemologies. It's difficult to change that preconception, meaning you need to do so in a way that breaks it and reshapes it, without them thinking you're assaulting their world view. This can be accomplished by presenting information (which to you is related but to them will be unrelated) and creating the opportunity for them to discover the connection and make the leap. This way, their "corporate web site" schema will change and you'll be the person there, waiting to take new suggestions.

Just make sure never to take credit for their discoveries--Bugs always got in trouble because the rabbit always let Elmer know he'd been "duped." Your victory is that your design wins and that your clients are a little better informed.

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1  
Brilliant answer, and such a pleasure to read! –  Patrick McElhaney Sep 20 '10 at 17:07
    
I wonder if you could use that in a fight: "Oh yeah? Well how about I come over there and shape my schemata all over your epistemology?" –  Rahul Sep 20 '10 at 17:28
    
This answer reminds me of Ken Kellogg's talk about redesigning the Marriott homepage. You can check it out here, it's quite interesting from the pov of designing for big clients: uie.com/brainsparks/2010/03/29/… –  Rahul Sep 20 '10 at 17:31
    
@Patrick thanks! I kinda get nerdy about it sometimes, glad it wasn't a ramble. –  Matt Sep 20 '10 at 20:05
    
@Rahul(1) Ha, it'd be so easy :-) "Oh yeah? Well your mom's been shaping my schema for 'foxy' all night..." –  Matt Sep 20 '10 at 20:07

I don't think there's really an answer to this question that you can use to suddenly improve things. It sounds like your design expertise is being ignored by people who think, like you say, that they can just tell someone to make something "more corporate" or "more consumer". They don't think in terms of "user experience", but in terms of "corporate branding", and "looking professional".

The only way to fix this is by long-term education of the people making these calls. There are various ways to go about doing that: have them read books like Rework and Don't Make Me Think to bring their thinking into the modern era. You can put them through some workshops about design and UX to give them an idea of what they're dealing with.

But ultimately, it will boil down to the individual: do they care about what you have to say? Are they going to take you seriously enough to learn from you? If yes, then start the longwinded process of respectfully bringing them up to speed on UX design and how user interfaces and design have a big impact. If not... your time is probably better spent elsewhere.

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Thanks for the quick reply, Don't Make Me Think was actually the first book I bought and is currently out on loan from my desk so I seem to be pushing it in the right direction. They do seem to be making progress in terms of slowly understanding the need and the time taken for a good UI and it looks like only time and experience will help them understand the importance and trying to move the company's image into the modern world. –  Michael Henley Sep 20 '10 at 11:43

Try to get them to test it - pick one small non-critical product/feature (you will get the best results using the highest volume product/feature - but they would probably won't want to use anything critical for testing) create two versions: one dull and one nice.

Now give some customers (or do some demos with) the dull version and some with the nice version, measure conversion rate/customer acceptance/whatever is relevant.

At the end of this experiment you will have actual data, it will probably show you are right and good UI sells - but it might so the people doing the buying are also "green screen for 20 years" people and they don't trust anything that doesn't look dull.

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The two approaches that I've taken to this that seem to have reasonable success are:

1) Changing the management - get somebody in who values design. This may not always be a simple option :-)

2) Demonstration. Pick a tiny thing. A/B test a "normal" vs a "good" design. Possibly forget to ask permission first. If you're right you'll get better results. Use the good results to sell other experiments. Use their good results to sell more. Use a history of good results to sell design.

In my experience this is like dealing with somebody who doesn't believe juggling is possible. Arguments won't win them over. Demonstrations will.

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