The problem:

Handling company information with spreadsheets, including

  • Versioning over email
  • Lack of format consistency
  • Soft workarounds to Hard problems
  • Susceptibility to human error in data input
  • Etc.

The goal:

Get rid of spreadsheet files to handle that information in a big corporation. Making up to date data visible across the whole company in a standard way without formatting inconsistencies, information silos, invalid data workarounds, etc.

The hurdle:

They are spreadsheet champions, or even worse: They are spreadsheet warriors. They don't want to let go of their spreadsheets.

I designed a storyboard with mock-ups, that describe step by step user interaction, and what they asked for right after is:

Don't complicate things, spreadsheets are OK, just put a spreadsheet in the software

Once you have been told to do that, all the fanciness that derives from thoughtful work on the UX trenches gets ditched, as their Mental Model craves Excel. Is there a sensible way to deal with paradigm-change-reluctance-behavior on the spot or as a follow up?

  • 2
    What does your research indicate?
    – UXAndrew
    Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 4:38
  • 1
    Don't get me started! I'm going through the same crusade within my organization!
    – edgarator
    Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 4:43
  • 3
    Although it's not precisely relevant to this situation (that's why I'm commenting and not posting an answer), Mike Montiero's book "Design is a Job" talks a lot about how to deal with stubborn clients and how to present new ideas to reluctant clients.
    – UXAndrew
    Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 4:45
  • 2
    Add an export to csv option :)
    – icc97
    Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 9:28

7 Answers 7


Build it. Take the time on your own, build it out and let them try it. But, they gave you the answer you need to overcome. Look at WHO you are dealing with. All the storyboards, mockups etc. won't matter as they can't see it. You shot yourself in the foot by doing all of that work first.

UX 101: Did you ask the potential user first. "if I could take this Excel and move it to a browser. What do YOU need it to do? be? Tell me what you currently don't like about the spread sheets? Etc, etc.

You feel you've identified a problem as YOU see it. You failed to identify a problem that your trying to fix. Taking a spread sheet and putting it in a browser with some features is not fixing the USERS problems and giving them a better UX.

Understand the users first, they'll tell you how to fix the problem. The in order to sell it. Paint a picture. Tell them a story they will get. Not UX jargon. if you know someone is into cars, relate what your going to do or have done to cars. Every user can visualize a picture if you tell the right story of what the picture is.

So, a recap:

  • Ask potential users what their pain points are.
  • Understand the problem from their point of view, not yours.
  • Figure out how to fix said problems by meeting their needs. Not yours, IT's, Execs etc.
  • Build it
  • Tell a story aka "paint the picture" for those that don't understand what you built after hearing them tell you what they want will do X for them.

Don't underestimate the beast. It would be like taking Photoshop away from a designer. Excel is actually a phenomenally useable tool that people are familiar with. I've tried and failed to get analysts off Excel.

Perhaps you could try watching some of your users to see what they do with Excel - show them that you really do want to help simplify their tasks. They often understand the need for standardisation but don't want to have to re-learn something.


This is a question about science of sales but not UX. So we need to identify customer's problem and offer appropriate solution. In your question you mentioned 'The problem', let's think for whom are these problems? As we can see from your explanations - this is not a problem for those with whom you discussed it. So there are two possible ways - find the people for whom these are real problems and offer your solution for them or try find out what are real problems for spreadsheet warriors with their spreadsheet. Unfortunately it's very common solution and one should take into account many details in particular situation.


What you identify as problems/issues may not be problems/issues for those people. But even then I am sure that they can identify things that they would like to improve with the existing spreadsheets (if not, then I am afraid it is not an easy case). I think the buy-in is to start by solving problems that they have with usability (you have to find a need for them to change, because they are comparing an existing product to a non-existent solution) and then try to implement some of the changes you want to make on top of that. I had a similar question on a different topic about getting people to change to something different even though they are very familiar with an existing tool. My suggestion was to show them how much easier it would be to do the same thing with a different tool, and how it solves problems that they have but have had to put up with because they didn't know that there was an alternative.

By the way, I think it is a very progressive organization that gives you the freedom to work on these kind of problems. It's a shame that you have to struggle to make these changes. I think UX is something that the company as a whole needs to embrace rather than being the focus on UX designers.


You sell it the same way that you sell anything. You have to make them want it.

Imagine you were selling a car. How would you sell a car to someone that doesn't want to buy it? You won't. You first have to make them want it, and that means showing them in a way that they buy into the benefits of it. You need to find a way to show them that what they care about will be positively affected by improving the UX.

One of the simplest demonstrations is to give them a Symbian smartphone and an Android or iOS device. Then ask them to perform the same task on each one. Hardware wise they could be equivalent, but they are vastly different experiences.

  • While I would agree to this. If you don't ask your potential users what it is that they need. All the selling in the world isn't going to solve your problem or theirs. A user has to see initial value in their problem being solved.
    – Tony
    Commented Feb 14, 2013 at 16:54

Well there's always an option that spreadsheets are THE thing for a given problem. It just might be they are the best in terms of UX and usability for their job. They were invented for a reason, that is.

They might be ugly and there might be hundreds of different formatting styles but they seem to be the best for the job, especially in financial, number, math related areas. Otherwise they'd be long gone.

Of course, input is one thing, while display of the inputted data is another. Maybe you could focus on the later?


I think some cases of using heatmaps in AB tests will help. Just show poorly designed interface and then a well designed interface with a giant red spot on the "Buy" button. It should work, as in most cases return on investment is the main reason for a project. If it sells, it's worth investing in it.

  • This isn't constructive to the OP in dealing with his current situation.
    – Tony
    Commented Feb 14, 2013 at 16:58

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