The importance of influence in design

Human behavior has always intrigued me—that’s the reason I
studied psychology as an undergraduate. At the time, I wondered how
those learnings could one day apply to life in the “real
world.” As it turns out, an understanding of people and human
behavior is an invaluable asset when it comes to cultivating
influence—especially when it comes to design.

In my role as VP of User Experience (UX) Design at Google, I’m
constantly tasked with influencing others. I lead a team of
designers, researchers, writers and engineers who are behind
products like Google’s Shopping, Trips, Payment and Ads. To
create great experiences for people, we must first convince people
building these products that design is elemental to delivering not
just user value, but also business value. Over the years I’ve seen
how the ability to build influence is essential to designing the
best experiences.

User empathy is a fast track to influence

As UX professionals (designers, writers, researchers and
front-end engineers), it’s our job to fully grasp the needs of
people using our products and be the spokesperson for them. It’s
easy to fall into the trap of believing that we understand our
users without witnessing them actually using our products. Or to
believe that our personal experiences reflect those of people
everywhere. Yet every time I go out into the real world and spend
time with people actually using our products, I come back with an
unexpected insight that changes how I initially thought about a

In 2017, I took a trip to Jakarta to research the challenges of
using smartphones in a region where service is relatively expensive
and bandwidth is not readily available. It wasn’t until I was on
the ground that I realized how degraded the experience was from
what I’d pictured. Similarly, during a recent trip to Tel Aviv, I
learned how difficult it is to get funding and grow a business.
Developing this kind of understanding, which can only come from
experience, helps motivate you to fix a problem from a different

Ideally, we’d bring all of our team members into the field to
have these first-hand experiences, but that approach doesn’t
scale. What does scale is empathy. We can share our personal
experiences, research and user stories to build greater
understanding. Once we’ve built a foundation of shared
understanding, we can have better influence over decisions that
affect users.

customer personas

Understanding people’s experiences and stories help build better

Inspire action with compelling stories

Research can provide the data and anecdotes that help others
understand why your design meets a specific need, but how you
present that data is equally important.

Creating rich stories full of photos and video clips helps
expose others to how people use products and the challenges they
encounter. On multiple occasions, I’ve been in a room where
research clips of people interacting with a product or prototype
are shared with executives and partners. Without fail, observing
real people use products gets everyone animated and excited.
Watching someone fumble through a task creates a sense of urgency
to solve a problem that can’t be generated through data.

One way to do this is with prototyping software or animated
slides that show a product flow or tell a narrative that helps
people understand the pain points of a product or the ease of its
well-designed experience. An interactive prototype lets people
experience the full possibilities. If you’re lucky enough to work
with a UX engineer, prototypes are probably already a part of your
influence repertoire. There’s nothing better than prototyping and
sharing a bold idea and hearing: “We need that! Let’s make it

Listen first

User experience is highly focused on empathy for users, yet
we’re often so focused on people using our products that we
don’t take the time to develop empathy for our colleagues. Making
sure others feel seen, heard, and understood is a significant step
toward influence. Similar to how we can mistakenly make assumptions
about our users, we can fall into the same trap with our peers.

Too often people equate influence with asserting their
perspective. Instead, influence starts with understanding the
goals, motivations and frustrations of others.

It’s easy to make incorrect conclusions, so instead of rushing
to make a point, start out by listening to your colleagues. Showing
the courtesy of listening often begets reciprocity, and makes
others more receptive to your perspective.

Our discipline is founded on exploring human connections and
motivations through empathy and listening. Now you can use those
tools to build influence, whether you work in UX or not.

Source: FS – Social Media Blogs 2
The importance of influence in design