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Background info on the company:

I'm the only User Experience Designer at a start-up-size company that has been around for 20 years. It's only been in the last few years that they've even created a development team rather than continue to sell white-labeled software.

Our product has End Users and end-end users. An example would be theme park employees. At Disneyland, there are characters in costumes, food service vendors and ride operators. These would be our end-end users. They check their schedule and clock in and out and take breaks and whatever. The people who manage those characters, vendors and operators are our End User, (like a Power User or Admin of sorts).

My role:

My 'voice' seems to count for a lot (and I've been outright told it does by my manager), because of my business and marketing knowledge, my background as a front end developer and general UX design experience. They realize they don't know what they don't know about the user experience and want an 'expert' to make the design choices that create a consistent experience. I follow a largely Lean UX-based process, and I advocate for the user where it makes the most sense while adhering to best business practices.

However, there are some instances where I feel like I need to weigh in and push through some objections from stakeholders.

A good example came yesterday, with a primary stakeholder on a project replying to a ticket about changing the wording on a button. It's a small change, and one that - apparently - clients have requested via the support team. The PM argued against reasonable responses from devs, and when I suggested we get feedback from customers who are actually using the product, his reply was "I don't know that our customers would give us the right answer – as they're not UX designers."

He's right, they're not UX designers, but they are end users of the product and we should be relying on their feedback to create the changes they want to see.

What I want:

I would like to create a user research focus group where I can connect directly with current clients to ask specific feedback about our UX choices and enhance their experience iteratively.

My question:

  • What phrases should I use to express that a user experience can't only be defined by the designer, but that it also requires input from the users?

-or-

  • What arguments have you used successfully to win access to user input?

I checked out this question, and found the selected answer helpful to an extent. Sales and support staff have great feedback. In this particular case, the feedback is being 'overruled' by the PM, so I need to overrule his balk to allowing me to connect with users.

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I'd mention a few famous marketing disasters that resulted from a company not understanding its customers

  • The Ford Edsel

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edsel

  • 'New Coke'

  • Boo.com

And you can't be an expert on all possible users - what you can be is an expert in finding out what users think and do.

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Where the management sees UX design as putting the users in theirs shoes, Human Centred Design advocates for putting yourself in the user's shoes.

Rather than advocating on the user's behalf and be seen as the proxy for what users think, you are right in creating a direct path for the user's voice to be heard directly. I would agree that this is the most powerful and effective method.

Having said that, not all management like what they hear, so there is no single method or argument that will work, except to show them the fact that your decision process is directly linked to the user and if they trust you then they will have to trust the users.

To have such a cognitive dissonance where they trust you and not the user when you trust the users should facilitate the right changes to take place.

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I would argue that UX designers make decisions not only based on their expertise, but also on their knowledge of and empathy with actual users (end end users you mentioned). Maybe there are not clear on the UX design process, so you might give them a refresher.

To gain knowledge and empathy, your assessment as an expert UX designer is that the company needs a user focus group. The users themselves won't "decide" anything. You are gathering qualitative data, data that is essential to make an informed design decision.

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As others have said you're simply gathering information from users. This is different from allowing users to make decisions. At the end of the day you're a "data informed" designer not a "data driven" one.

You should probably point out that the data (in this case user feedback) is being overridden by the internal team. You'll need to find a way to get the company as a whole to take a stance on the value of user input. That's not easy and its got to be a management decision otherwise everyone will still go rogue. Maybe its time for a lunch & learn to help people understand how the user perspective works and its value.

Now onto your actual question. Do you really need a formal focus group? From your employer's perspective, making something formal usually has legal implications, rules that must be established, and last but not least is/sounds expensive. (remember to practice empathy with your co-workers too, not just end users) That's hard to swallow for most companies.

Focus Group Lite

Instead, why not start small. I would request that the support team ask the users if it would be ok for YOU the designer to follow up with them. Get support to give you user contact info (for those who agree) so you can review tickets and reach out. Your users will feel important and it opens the door for you to have candid conversations. If you build up a relationship with these people you can always send them a survey or a prototype later.

Finally, make transcripts of your conversations available to the whole company. Preferably searchable but at the very least available. And follow each entry with YOUR professional synopsis of the problem. This process lets the company see what you do. AND it gives you aggregate data without having to build a formal focus group.

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I'd refer to what you describe as missing on your process as a 'research phase.' Now, research can happen in many different ways and at various stages of the design process and this will have an impact on the selection of a research method. In this case, you mention having a user focus group, but I believe this is not an ideal solution for the following reasons:

  • If you are looking to grow and expand the user base, for example, and rely on the input of the same set of users, who already know the platform and didn't choose to use it probably, you are not going to uncover any unsatisfied needs.
  • If you are looking to make decisions about the product, based only on the perception of users who aren't in a real setting or situation, you might also push for many features that weren't so crucial. The fact that they are part of a user group, and if they will be compensated by it, will influence their behavior, and they will want to participate somehow, by proposing ideas that they don't feel so strongly about having them as part of their daily app interactions. Look at what they do, not what they say.

So, your solution doesn't seem to push any business goal dramatically, thus making it harder to sell.

I'd propose the following instead. Define or learn about the key metric that drives the business goal, in my experience, it's usually one, and everything else is noise. Let's say that in this case, whoever decides to hire your product, will renew or continue with it because as the business scales its workforce, it's so easy for new users to get on board, so they renew their subscription and the lifetime value generated by their ongoing use exceeds the cost of acquiring new customers. So in this case, if you have a lot of churned customers, was there a problem area that, if improved could have prevented this? What were those users trying to achieve? Are there others in the same situation and can I reach out to them?

So now you can say "I believe that reaching out to customers who are adding more than X users to their account in a period of X weeks will prevent churn by %. I've reached that number based on the total count of churned accounts and X% of them presented this pattern. The cost of not doing anything could be X, as we have X users who will have more than X users on their teams."

Now you can lay out a research plan that I think has a more significant chance of getting the approval of stakeholders.

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