97 UX Things

Benson Chan - Sell Your Design Ideas with Trust and Insights

October 05, 2021 Benson Chan & Dan Berlin Season 1 Episode 17
97 UX Things
Benson Chan - Sell Your Design Ideas with Trust and Insights
Show Notes Transcript

Benson Chan discusses his chapter about gaining trust through design insights

Dan Berlin:

Hi everyone and welcome to another edition of the 97 UX Things podcast. Dan Berlin here, your host and book editor. This week, I'm joined by Benson Chan, who wrote the Sell Your Design Ideas with Trusted Insights chapter. Welcome Benson.

Benson Chan:

Hi, thanks for having me.

Dan Berlin:

Thanks for coming on the podcast. Can you please take a moment to introduce yourself?

Benson Chan:

Yeah. So my name is Benson. And I'm currently leading a design and research team over at Amazon. I work on the personalization of the Alexa assistant.

Dan Berlin:

Cool. Interesting working on a voice UI. Have you run into any... are there any interesting research or design challenges you've run into with that worth sharing?

Benson Chan:

Yeah, it's it's pretty interesting. When we think about voice UIs by themselves, it's such a new field and it's something that's also hard to recruit for. But with the evolution of personal assistant devices, now we also have screens as well. So we're doing multi modal design, as we call it, which is basically doing voice only, sometimes screen only, and then how they both integrate together.

Dan Berlin:

Interesting. Sounds like a fun challenge.

Benson Chan:

Yeah.

Dan Berlin:

Can you tell us about your UX career? How did you discover user experience? And how did you wind up where you are today?

Benson Chan:

Yeah, I think my first job in UX design was actually for... when I was a teenager, back in the middle 90s, my first experience was using Microsoft... was called Frontpage or something. And my parents ran a small Bed and Breakfast in Montreal, Canada, and they needed a web presence, or I thought they needed one, they had no clue what that was. So yeah, I did what I could there and that was my first foray into design. But I went actually did school in engineering, in software engineering. And it wasn't until I figured out that I was not going to be the best coder programmer in the world that I wanted to get in more into the business aspect of technology. I started out my career in product management and through that I worked so closely with designers and researchers. And that's how I discovered my true passion in UX design. And yeah, had the opportunity to switch into a design leadership role at Microsoft. And here I am.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. And can you tell us a little bit about that switch from product management to UX? What helped help facilitate that change?

Benson Chan:

I think, in my specific case, I just had a strong passion for the designers on the team and what they were doing, and I was already managing the product management team. And as luck would have it, there was an opportunity for me to manage both, and it made sense for the organization at the time. So that's how I made that transition. And I always find it that much more productive when product and designers are working hand in hand to really think through what the product should be.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. Yep. And do you personally gravitate towards design or research, one or the other, or somewhere in between?

Benson Chan:

I'd say I spend more time on design topics. But I think research is such a key aspect in not just the design process, but overall product development. So when we think about research and the time I spend there, I try to incorporate research insights into not just what my team is doing, but how we partner with teams like product management as well.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah. Hey, and that leads into your chapter, that a nice segue there. Again, your chapter is Sell Your Design Ideas with Trust and Insights. Can you tell us about your chapter here and fill us in?

Benson Chan:

Yeah, I think first of all, I think anybody who is in any field, but especially in Design, and if you are a UX practitioner, I think learning some of the fundamentals around sales skills are so important. We always have our have our ideas, and we need to effectively communicate it. And in a lot of our roles in UX it's really a team sport, it's not just about yourself and your opinion, it's also about the customer, and about other stakeholders as well. So yeah, I think learning sales skills is just an incredibly important skill to have for everyone. And one thing in my experience that I've noticed is there's just, especially in organizations I've had the opportunity to work in like Microsoft and Amazon, there's a lot of great ideas coming left and right. And what matters sometimes for a UX designer is actually how you go about engaging your stakeholders pitching your idea, and carrying that through so that the right solution ships.

Dan Berlin:

In the way you're describing, it sounds like there's the sales aspect for detailing your idea, but it makes sure that everyone is on the same page. Sounds like there's almost a mediator role here as well to play.

Benson Chan:

Yeah, sometimes, especially in UX, I find that the best idea doesn't have to come from you. Sometimes it's about facilitating a process for how the best ideas can come forward. And you so happen to be the one to maybe be the the skilled person to have it come to life. But generating those ideas, getting the buying in... sometimes that's about facilitating and especially when you're bringing people along, and you're facilitating you actually don't even need to sell your ideas because the ideas came from the group.

Dan Berlin:

Right, right. Yeah, design is not... design and research is not just about design and research, it's about people and facilitating these conversations. That's a great point.

Benson Chan:

Yeah, totally. So, in the chapter, I basically talked about four things to master to effectively sell your design ideas. So communicate your understanding of the problem and the goals, back up your design ideas with customer insights and validation, build trust with your stakeholders, and show that you have both customer and business focus.

Dan Berlin:

Can you tell us about how folks can go out employing these?

Benson Chan:

Yeah, so communicating your understanding of the problem and goals is incredibly important because when it comes to selling your ideas, or getting people on the same page as you, there's nothing more important than being on the same page about hey, like, what IS the problem that we're trying to solve? There's nothing worse than somebody going off and coming up with a grandiose UX solution and come back and for people to react, to be like, this is not what I had in mind, or what I thought was the problem we were trying to solve. And there's a lot of nuances there of course. But yeah, I think as with any great pitch, or any great design process that I've seen, and have put in place, it starts with a strong brief at the very beginning. And the focus of that brief should really be making sure that there's a two way conversation happening to dial in on what is the problem or problems we're trying to solve and the opportunities that we're trying to go after?

Dan Berlin:

Yep. And this sounds like a great opportunity to start off thinking about the business goals, because UX is all about getting the users expectations, but it also starts with the business goals.

Benson Chan:

Yeah, so related to the other point I brought up around show that you have both customer and business focus, sometimes in how you scope the extent of your solutions for that to be effective you need to keep in mind what the business goals are, what the latest hot topics are, what the latest constraints are. So a very simple example of that might be that if the problem that's being discussed is constrained by the amount of time or urgency or resources that's available, you don't want to naively come in with a grandiose solution that's going to take a year to build. If you haven't taken into consideration that the team might have said we need to change our registration or whatever numbers optimization for this month, so that greatly scopes what type of thinking and complexity goes into the design solution you're thinking about.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. Is there a good way to efficiently convey to others that you do have a grasp of of these topics in order to move the conversation forward?

Benson Chan:

Yeah, obviously that can happen through discussion but I think there's nothing better... like at Amazon, we have this practice of, as you might have heard, we don't do a lot of present PowerPoint presentations. We actually read documents that people prepare ahead of time. And so what we do here is designers or any discipline, we typically start off documents being extremely clear about distilling what is the problem we're trying to solve, and having a different section on the context around the problem. So any data points that may be relevant to raise and then also having a clear and succinct statement on what the recommendation is. That way, you're clear up front of what you're about to get into. And sometimes the conversation starts and stops the first few paragraphs because you're quickly showing what your understanding of the problem is, and the context, whether it's right or not, before going into any design solutions.

Dan Berlin:

Gotcha. Sounds like that's a great way to build trust as well. And that was another one of the items that you called out. What are what are some other ways that folks can build trust with the team?

Benson Chan:

I think with trust, I would think that in a lot of human relationships where it takes time to build trust and a lot of data points. So an example of that may be how aware are you of your product management or your engineering partner? What are problems that they're thinking about for this particular project? It may be a different perspective or an angle from yours, but understanding that will be incredibly important to keep in mind as well, and showing them that you understand. So that's something that I found to be really effective. And that's really about practicing your listening skills.

Dan Berlin:

Hmm. Always. We have to be good moderators and good listeners in return.

Benson Chan:

Yeah.

Dan Berlin:

Great. Another one that you mentioned is having user feedback and having those insights. How about for the folks who have trouble getting those, either getting buy in for doing user research or having access to users? What suggestions do you have for folks for leveraging this topic?

Benson Chan:

Yeah, I mean, I think one advice I would give is any data is better than no data. And at Amazon and Microsoft, we do fairly extensive customer surveys and user feedback sessions and focus groups. But sometimes, we don't necessarily have the time or the means to do that in every single phase of our project. So, depending on the decision that is at hand and whether you have access to anything or not, sometimes we'll do more guerilla style sessions to get feedback from co-workers who are not in your domain, but you treat them as general customer or like family and friends. Of course, it's not ideal to make a multimillion dollar decision on but when you're just thinking about one aspect, let's say in usability, or something around the layout of a screen or wording of something, a lot of times it's better to ping five to ten people to get their feedback, rather than have no kind of third party feedback. And then you're left as I'm sure many UX designers have unfortunately been involved in, you're left in an opinion based discussion on what is the right solution and I think bringing in that third party voice is really important.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. Agreed. Agreed. That necessarily gets us beyond just opinion and get's them to expectations and experiences. And then great point about going guerilla if need be.

Benson Chan:

Yeah, and I think with customer insights and validation... by that, I mean insights coming into the start of your design project that help give direction. And with validation, it's about well, okay, we've we've had insights that we think point us to some areas of discovery work, and we've done some of those conceptual explorations and detailed mocks, but then you need to validate it. And again, it's going back to the customer to get feedback. Sometimes insights could come from first or secondary research, it doesn't have to be speaking directly to the customer. But validation, you know, it's definitely about getting feedback directly from people.

Dan Berlin:

Why is it more important in validation?

Benson Chan:

Because at the end of the day, in validation you're looking to get feedback on a particular design that you have. Whereas general insights and preferences give you direction overall, on what design strategy you may use, or what features to focus on. Validation is about diving deeper into the actual screens and flows. Right before you launch or ideally, on your way to launch. So that no surprises at the end of the day. There's nothing worse than all your hard work not having the right impact because of a few words that might have led to confusion in your flow.

Dan Berlin:

Right, right. Great points. What else about your chapter did you want to convey here today?

Benson Chan:

I think in what I raised around the four things to master, I think one of the key points to think through is depending on the phase in your career and the environment that you're in, it's not just about being a rockstar designer. Skills alone and what you think may be right isn't necessarily going to be what brings you success. A lot of what I talk about are really soft skills and that is one of the main differences that I see in terms of more junior to more senior designers and their ability to not just have impact at work, but in terms of satisfaction; their ability to really collaborate with people, get their ideas across, work back and forth with folks, instead of running into walls all the time. Often, I see that as one of the main differences between more junior folks who might require more experience to figure that out to more senior people who have been there before and figured out I need to do more than just deliver my designs.

Dan Berlin:

Yep, I'm really glad you say that, and I totally agree, soft skills are something that are kind of lurking in the shadows in the UX world, in that we do talk about the hard skills that we need to have in terms of research or design or content or strategy, whatever we're working on. But the soft skills are the things that turn people into, I don't want to say experts, but into more advanced practitioners. Being able to, as you said, sell your ideas and collaborate with others and to do so in a meaningful way. It's something I would love to see more in UX education.

Benson Chan:

Yeah, totally. And instead of it being based on somebody figuring that out through experience. I'd say the other thing I want to highlight is people do spend a lot of time debating opinions on what the right answer may be through the product development process, and sometimes the answer is right there in the research. So I would highly recommend for any designer, if you have access to a researcher to help you with your work, you should be their best buddy. And really fully understand the possibilities of what research can bring to your work throughout the process. And if you don't have that capability, that access to that capability, then I would learn more about what it means to do research yourself without necessarily having to go and become an expert necessarily. But again, some insight is better than none.

Dan Berlin:

Yep, yep. Yeah. And to oversimplify what you just said, insights and research can help break through the circle of opinion that happens in some meetings.

Benson Chan:

Yeah. And I think the invaluable aspect of bringing the customer perspective that, unfortunately, is still not a habit for everybody, I think is is a really good way to lead.

Dan Berlin:

Yep, definitely. Anything else about your chapter you wanted to convey before we move on to another piece of advice?

Benson Chan:

Yeah, I think with communicating the problem and the goals, I'd say one aspect of how to do that is to not just focus on competitive analysis to see how other brands may be doing something similar, or your own heuristic analysis. Take advantage and dive into business metrics. How is the business tracking success? And then using those numbers as well. So yeah, one thing that myself and my teams do is we participate in the weekly business reviews to make sure that we have a good pulse on what's happening, and what kind of numbers are available to us. So that when we do need help to make the case for something, that we're also leveraging numbers that the business is already tracking, because we know that the business cares about those numbers. So to not just focus on geeking out on the design, and UX aspects of the rationale, but also bringing in the business metrics that people care about.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah, in design we often forget about the key performance indicators or KPIs. And this goes back to the beginning of our conversation of knowing what's important to the business. And the KPIs are usually the root cause of what we should be thinking of.

Benson Chan:

Yeah, totally.

Dan Berlin:

Great. So thank you for all of that. We're gonna move on here to the final piece of advice. What we like to do in the final section here is ask you for a piece of advice for folks either breaking into UX or continuing with their UX career, a piece of advice you'd like to convey.

Benson Chan:

Yeah, I would say that if you're earlier in your career, definitely be hungry when it comes to working on different types of problems and opportunities. Especially if you're early on in your career, you want to network as much as you can. Network out in public or communities, obviously, but even within the company. When you are working on more variety of projects, you will be exposed to more people, and build those relationships, build those rapports, and also learn about different aspects as well of what it means to solve different problems. And I think that will give you more access to other opportunities. Sometimes your next opportunity is based on luck, based on who you know and the fewer amount of types of problems that you have solved, you're not opening yourself to more opportunities. Instead people will right away think, okay, they only have experience in this and that's all they could do. But yeah, I think if you're early in your career, definitely expand your horizons and be hungry about solving for different types of problems.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. I love your point about internal networking. I always talk about networking, networking, networking, because that's how you're gonna find all your jobs. But honestly, I only think about it in terms of external networking, of getting out the organizations and getting out there in the world. But great point about internal networking within your company to learn what others are doing and to build those relationships.

Benson Chan:

Yeah, you never know that may lead to your next opportunity within that company or even outside the company later on.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. Yeah. Great. Well, Benson, thank you so much for joining me today. It's been a wonderful chatting with you.

Benson Chan:

Thank you, Dan.

Dan Berlin:

My guest today has been Benson Chan who wrote the chapter sell your design ideas with trust and in sights. Thanks for joining us everyone today and hope you enjoyed today's episode. You've been listening to the 97 UX things podcast, a companion to the book 97 Things Every UX Practitioner Should Know published by O'Reilly and available at your local bookshop. All book royalties go to UX nonprofits, as well any funds raised by this podcast. The theme music is Moisturize the Situation by Consider the Source and I'm your host and book editor Dan Berlin. Please remember to find the needs in your community and fill them with your best work. Thanks for listening.