The importance of influence in designThe 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 problem.
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 angle.
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.