The ROI of UX Research with Ruby Pryor

Aurelius Podcast – Episode 65 highlights with Ruby Pryor:

  • Defining the ROI of UX and UX Research
  • The case for building confidence in speaking about UX Research in terms of dollars
  • Understanding how certain recommendations you make impact the fundamental business model of where you work
  • Business models, understanding them and how UX Research work fits into them
  • Examples of how to determine and communicate the ROI of UX research
  • How to calculate the ROI of UX and research

This time around we had Ruby Pryor on the show. She’s a UX researcher with a background in management consulting and strategic design. She joined me for an in-depth discussion about the ROI of UX research. We talked about how to define the ROI of your work, why so many folks in our field are apprehensive about doing so and real world examples of how Ruby has done this.

Ruby and I unpacked several details about placing an ROI on UX research. We talked about how the impact of things like different business models, regulations and team dynamic and context can affect the sort of recommendations you might make as a UX researcher. 

Ruby has thought deeply about this topic, shared a ton of great content about it and, maybe most importantly, has really done it in the real world, successfully. This was a great and timely conversation for UX and research teams – you’re gonna love it!

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Ruby Pryor podcast on the ROI of UX Researc

Episode Transcript

(this transcript was automatically created using our very own transcription feature in Aurelius and has been minimally edited 😀 )

Hey, Ruby, how are you? Hey, Zach. I’m great. How are you? I’m doing just fine.

Early for me, late for you. We’re recording. I didn’t realize that when I reached out to have you be on the show that we had such a wide gap in our time zones, but we made it work, and I’m glad that you were able to join us. Yeah, thanks. Super happy to be part.

Of course, of course, course. So as we do, as we start every show, I like to have folks sort of introduce themselves a little bit, talk about who they are and their background. I prefer they do it rather than me because I like for you to be able to share the things that you’re most proud of. And really, this is just an idea for folks to kind of get an idea who you are and what you’re all about as we dive into this discussion. So maybe tell folks a little bit about yourself.

Sure. I’m australian, so born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, and I started out my career there, firstly in market research before moving into management consulting. And I’ve actually probably spent the majority of my career working inside of management consulting firms, but always with this element of customer experience and human centered design has really been a big thread throughout my career. At the start of 2019, I moved to Singapore, where I live now. So it’s been nearly five years living in Southeast Asia, and I joined Boston Consulting Group as a strategic designer.

So again, I was using a lot of these design skills, but on projects around things like digital transformation for clients in the region. After that, I went in house for the very first time, and I joined Grab. Not sure if your listeners may be familiar with Grab, but it calls itself Southeast Asia’s super app, so it does very similar things to Uber. So there’s, like, ride sharing and there’s food delivery, and there’s Grab Express, which is like, packages, and there’s also some financial services products in there as well. So it’s a pretty massive company in the region and has a presence in all the major economies in southeast Asia.

So I worked there for about 18 months as a UX researcher, the most specific job title I’ve ever had. Had a really great time there, but unfortunately was one of the casualties of the tech layoffs which affected me in late June of this year. And off the back of that, I decided to start my own company. So really officially launched it only about two weeks ago. And it’s called Rex.

And my mission through Rex is to increase the impact that design has in the world. And I do this by offering training courses and programs to individual designers also in house for clients, as well as doing consulting work for clients throughout the world. So although it’s a really new company, I’ve managed to get learners from five continents as part of my courses, and I’m really excited about what I’ve achieved and really eyes wide open for what the future has for me as well. Awesome. Well, congrats on that.

I did see that you had started that company sort of fresh out of the oven, so congrats on that. You talking about your background, too? There was a part of that that I didn’t know was true in the management consulting, and that actually makes a little bit more sense to me now as to why some of the stuff that you’ve been sharing, some of the content you’ve been putting out, that really drew me as an audience member of yours, and then to reach out to have a conversation on our show, that definitely makes sense as to more why this was the case. And so a lot of that was surrounding this idea of the ROI of Ux. And I think a lot of people want to know what that is, and a lot of people think or feel or believe that’s important.

But especially given your background now, it makes a lot more sense as to why you would be writing and thinking about that kind of thing. I guess the first thing is, I really want to ask is what inspired you to start digging in really deep on, quote, unquote, the ROI of ux? Yeah, I think it’s a great question. So part of it definitely is my background. So I think a lot of us don’t realize what unique skills we have for quite some time.

So when I got my first in house UX role, it was the first time I’d really worked in a team of other UX researchers. It was the first time I was really surrounded by a lot of other designers. In my day to day work, like in consulting, often you would be in a team of generalists and maybe be the only designer on a case, or maybe only one of two. So when I was suddenly surrounded by all these amazing Ux folks and I realized, hang on a second, I actually know a lot more about business than I thought because when you’re surrounded by mbas, the dynamic is totally different. Right.

That feels a little bit different in that case. Yeah, exactly. And so I started to realize when I was in house, like, hey, I actually do have a whole bunch of these skills, and they’re really useful. And I started to want different ways to talk about the impact that I was creating. Because often when we talk about impact, particularly as a UX researcher, we say, I helped a team make a different prioritization decision, or I helped a team optimize a flow that they’re working on.

And maybe I updated this many screens, I influenced updating this amount of content, or like this many lines of content or whatever it is. But I just kept thinking, like, what about this last step? Why aren’t we going this one step further? All of those types of activities inside of firms, you can put a value on those activities. And in consulting, consultants do all the time.

Consultants are not shy about putting a dollar value on stuff, whereas I think designers are really shy about it. And I think part of the reason is a really beautiful one, which is we want to do it just because it’s the right thing to do. We want to do it for the human motivation, because we want to create wonderful experiences for people. We want to put out beautiful products into the world just cause, just in the mission to create a world that is more beautiful, more usable, and is a better experience. But unfortunately, the rules of the game that the world has kind of set up for us means that that kind of thinking is not always rewarded.

So when I was in house, I started to do a little bit of this stuff and I started to talk in terms of, hey, by updating these flows, we were able to remove this complexity, which I hypothesized, reduced this number of calls to customer support. And even that was like kind of the first time I’d really started dabbling in that. And then I realized, well, each of those calls costs a certain amount of money. Like, we can go the next step further and we can put a dollar value, but to be really honest with you, getting laid off was definitely a catalyst for ramping up that discussion to the next level because the teams, I think, that are really competent at showing their value and talking a lot about the revenue that they’re creating, the costs that they’re saving, I think they’re often the ones that fare really well during these leaner times. And I thought, well, I can talk like that too, so I’m just going to start doing it.

And, yeah, the reception has been pretty overwhelmingly positive so far. Yeah, I would imagine that that’s the case. I mean, it certainly was when I was reading it because I’ve placed a pretty high importance on that stuff throughout my career as well. And I would say for sure some of the stuff that you read, I hadn’t really experienced the detail applied to some of the actual numbers to that. I can’t remember the specific example, the first that I read, but I was like, this is really well done, and something that I think a lot more people need to be thinking about.

So there’s a couple of follow up questions based on what you said that I definitely want to pull apart. The first one is how did you go about determining, in this case, the nuts and bolts, the actual numbers that you wanted to apply to this thing? Talk through your thinking as to how it might help somebody else in that situation to think about. Well, here’s how we can actually talk about the money that saved or grew the company because it’s really what it’s going to come down to, right? Yeah.

It’s the most important kind of framework to think about, like revenue and costs. And your company, if it is a profit generating entity, is always trying to increase its revenue and it’s always trying to cut its costs so it can have the most profit left over. Those ratios are going to vary a little bit depending on the phase your company is in. If you’re in a hyper growth startup, then it might be a lot more focused on market share and growing revenue rather than cost minimization. But that’s it.

They’re the two things that really matter. So I guess for me, it was a series of projects that I were working on when some of these things started to come to the fore. And I think the most important thing to start thinking about is that building stuff inside of organizations takes time and effort from lots of different people inside of those organizations. Most simplistically, let’s say it’s engineering, it’s design, and it’s product managers. Each of those people has a salary, right?

So each of them essentially costs money per day. And you can come up with what you assume that salary is based on, what’s reasonable in the market that you work. And generally this is where people start getting nervous. So as soon as you say that, that to them, you’ve got to make an assumption about this dollar value. That’s when people start getting really nervous.

And look, my advice is, firstly, be reasonable. So don’t choose a number that’s super outsized because you want to show a really great amount of impact. Choose a really reasonable number and you can get that number off a website, maybe like glassdoor, or sometimes job ads will have them, or maybe even just with folks inside your organization, you can just throw out like, does 10,000 a month seem vaguely accurate? And if people are on board, that’s good enough. What’s really important is that we go for reasonableness over 100% accuracy.

It’s actually not worth your time to find out to the dollar dollar value exactly how much an engineer at this level versus a designer at that level versus a product manager at that level makes. What’s important is that you are directionally correct and it’s a number that stakeholders going to buy into. So those are the kind of things we need to be thinking about when we make assumptions, and then we can kind of move forward with the next calculation. So once you know how much each of the employees, roughly how much their time is worth per day, you then have to talk to engineers or PMS and understand, well, how long would that feature take to build? And then it’s a case of just multiplying those numbers together and you come up with, okay, this feature would have taken us just in people time, approximately 50,000, 100,120, 5000, whatever your number is.

And that’s it. And really the only assumptions you had to make there was how long it took who was involved and what their daily salary is. But even that way of thinking, I think, is really new to a lot of people in ux. The idea that we can then parcel all of these disparate activities together into $1 number. And this is the kind of decisions that folks in UX should be influencing.

We absolutely should be influencing. Do we build feature a or do we build feature b and do we build feature a rather than BCD and e, which we know maybe from research, aren’t going to be winners. We have really strong hypotheses based off the research insights that we’ve got. And every time you’re helping an organization deprioritize a dud, you’re saving money. Like every time you deprioritize that feature, that would have cost $100,000.

That’s $100,000 cost saving. But people often don’t want to go to that level, or they don’t want to take too much credit, or they don’t want to put a dollar value, but we absolutely can. And heaps of other people in the world of business are doing just that every day, and there’s no reason that we can’t be part of that. Yeah, definitely. And it just makes me really happy to hear your focus on this, because it’s something that I’ve felt very passionate about for a long time.

But I certainly never dove as deep into it in the way that you’re sharing it publicly, too. I mean, I definitely did this throughout my career. But never dug this deep into it to be sharing it publicly and really trying to teach people how to do it. And it’s a passionate topic of mine as well. Based on what you’re saying.

I think I already know the answer, but I just have to ask, do you see a lot of people in our field talking about this? I mean, just in terms of ratios? Like, is it half? Is it one out of ten? Is it basically 0.1 out of ten?

Okay. The way I often see the discourse is people will share benchmarking studies from, like, a deloitte or a McKinsey saying design generates outsized value. Like, for every dollar a company invests in design, it returns $100 back to the organization. I’m just making those numbers up. But you see those kind of benchmarking studies and they get reshared a lot.

And then the second type of content is, designers need to learn business acumen. It’s really important we know business acumen to have better conversations with people about business. And I think a lot of the discourse kind of stops there. And the next level that we really need to go to is like, okay, well, what are those elements of business acumen we need to be really fluent in? And I think there’s not as much discussion happening at that level of specificity to really help designers upskill in the types of terms they really need to know and make sure they’re super contextualized to design and are really useful.

So I’d say getting down to calculating the ROI of specific projects that designers are taking on, I don’t think I’ve seen that happen in public. I don’t want to sound grandiose, but I think the post that I wrote was the first time I’d ever seen anyone do that. No, I don’t think that that’s completely out of the realm of possibility. It’s possible that somebody here or there has written something about this, but I haven’t come across it personally. And I think the important distinction is, I think for sure that there is stuff from Forrester or whatever saying for every one dollars, $100 is saved.

That’s great, but it’s kind of abstract. What I really appreciate is that you dig into it in great detail, specific to the personnel and operations of the business, because it’s also not just, here’s what this feature did for the company, and they grew, because that’s also somewhat abstract. You could say we did well, we made a good product, and then x amount of return, right? Yeah. But I think also designers don’t often take the credit they should for some of that growth.

Often when you work on a flow and you optimize it, suddenly we’re seeing time on task go down, we’re seeing task success rate increase, we’re seeing conversion rate increase, and product takes credit. And why, like design was absolutely front and center in making those decisions, on executing on the decisions that we have made. And we as a practice, really should be standing up and saying, hey, we increase revenue. Hey, we cut costs. And really putting ourselves as someone in those discussions and not being afraid to really stand up and say, look, we impacted on these really critical business metrics in a meaningful way.

Yeah, that made me think of something else that I don’t really feel like our industry talks a lot about, too, which is this compounding effect of the work that we do, which is frankly, anybody who’s in finance or financial operations, any way they’re going to know the power of the compounding effect in these things. Let’s say even you improved conversion by 1%. That doesn’t sound like a heavy duty thing. But compounded over a year, compounded over five years is a massive, massive change for that company. And that’s not something that I feel like people have really thought about either.

I appreciate the perspective you’re bringing to this, of not just this massive flip the switch and look, conversion went up 500% in a week. That is very rare. And it’s unlikely any of our work in our lifetime is going to do that, especially now in the way sort of digital and Internet world works. It’s just not really going to be that impactful. But if you think about the compounding effect, and especially now think the cumulative, you’re going to continue to work on that.

And the compounding effect gets even bigger if you’re assuming you’re working on the same product or feature too. Absolutely. And also considering the size of many of the organizations that employ designers, like, we’re talking of market sizes of tens of millions, hundreds of millions of billions of users in the case of some of these products. So really it doesn’t take much. It could be like 1% or even less probably upticks in some of these metrics to see really significant changes to the bottom line.

Yeah, definitely. And the thing is, what I’ve always told people, I would love to hear your perspective on this. What I’ve always told people is the number one thing designers and researchers lack is an understanding of how the business works. And it was. You were kind of saying this as well.

You read a lot about this, where it’s like, here’s the business impact a design can have. And then there’s all these articles that designers and researchers need to understand business better. And this is not an abstract thing. When people ask me, well, what does that mean? I just say, do you know how your business makes money in the department, specifically, that you work within there?

Do you know? And often the answer is no. That’s the first place to start. I know that you don’t want to be money motivated. You even mentioned this.

Right? Like a lot of the folks in our field kind of have this more altruistic vision of their work, which is fine. I’m not suggesting to get rid of that. But if you want to be able to speak to the impact of this, you got to know what’s important to the people who determine the impact of this. Right?

Yeah, I totally agree. And I think the way you frame that is spot on. And I asked the exact same question, like, do you know how this business makes money? Do you know what its largest generators of cash flow and revenue are? Do you know what its largest cost centers are?

And do you know what the priorities of the organization are with regards to those? Because sometimes the organization wants to double down on where it’s really strong. Other times they’re looking to diversify. And so how clued in you are to the strategic priorities of the organization, I think is also a really critical part of business acumen. And I think when it comes to research, the way you see this manifest sometimes is researchers will make recommendations that just don’t fly, because without realizing it, they may be suggesting a fundamental overhaul of the business model of the organization.

Like if your organization has never introduced subscription model before and you’re suggesting subscription model, that’s actually a massive recommendation. And not to say you shouldn’t do it. Like, if you have very strong evidence and you have really good reasons to go for that, you should pursue it. Right. But you’ve got to understand that you are suggesting a huge change to the way that organization does business.

And therefore the types of discussions you need to have, the kind of stakeholder management you need to do is really going to change. So I think, as well as how it makes money, we need to understand what the business model is. We need to understand the strategic priorities, and we need to understand the OKRs or KPIs of the organization. Because the other reality, I think, inside these really big firms now is that design and product as well. Actually, it can be so fragmented that the product you’re working on is just a couple of screens.

It’s really such a microflow. And in and of itself, that flow may not really make any money. Like KYC, I think, is a good example. So that’s know your customer, and that’s the onboarding flow for a lot of financial products where you need to get your identity verified. KYC, in and of itself, doesn’t make anyone any money.

Like, customers just have to do it and then they can go and they can open the bank account or get the credit card or do the thing that makes money for the business. But KYC is absolutely critical to enable all of those things. So if you’re a designer who’s working on something like KyC, you still really need to understand, well, what are the priorities within this flow? Like, what are the OKRs that we need to work on, but also how do they ladder up and how do they connect to the other things in the business? Because you need to understand how you fit in to the bigger picture as well.

And I think this is also where folks get demotivated, because they’re like, well, I’m only working on this really tiny thing. How does that fit into the idea of an organization being profitable or cutting costs or whatever it is? But you’ve got to understand, zoom out a little bit more sometimes to really understand where your work fits. I love that. I love the fact that you touched on that, because the thing that sort of translated in my mind is that by understanding how the business works and your place in it, not just you individually, but, like, the team that you’re on, gives you better self awareness when you’re trying to make recommendations.

This matters a lot. Again, I’m sort of translating some of what you’re saying based on some of my experience, too. But this matters a lot because a talk I gave in the past, I used an example of why somebody might not listen to your research insights. And in this talk, I would, like, just pick somebody out in the audience, anybody who raised a hand. And I said, if I guaranteed you I could get you home from this conference today faster and easier than the way you got here, would you believe me?

And they always sort of hesitantly shake their head no. And I say, well, what’s the reason why? And this is not a rhetorical question. Well, it’s because I don’t know where you came from. I don’t know how you got here.

I don’t know how long it took. I don’t even know if you’re going back home after this. You might be going somewhere else. And so here’s the point. I lack context completely, but I’m expecting you to take my recommendations.

This is how it’s seen in a business. When somebody comes up to your point, you should change the subscription model, and they say, you don’t even know how our business works. To suggest that out of the blue, to think that that’s just a simple change, it would give you this really well tuned self awareness to be able to make these suggestions and know how big of an impact they are to approach them, perhaps in a different way or not. Yeah, definitely.

I’ve seen a lot of talks. I think about business acumen and a lot of stuff written about business acumen online as well. And often people talk about business models and they’ll say, okay, we need to understand that there’s like subscription business models and then there’s freemium business models and there’s all these different types. But the reality is no organization above a certain size is one type of business model. They are layered on top of each other.

And there will be with Amazon, right. It’s got its subscription element in there to have that reoccurring revenue, but it’s also obviously like an on demand business to purchase whatever you want. And then there’s AWS as well, and we’re talking cloud. If we really want to think about all of the different elements in there. It’s not enough to just understand conceptually at a high level that there exists these discrete business models.

It’s also about, well, what is the interaction of these together, and then how do they play out in my business, and how does the design work that I’m doing influence and interact with these different business models as well. Yeah, no, that’s such a hugely important point, especially with companies that size you bringing that up is really timely because something I read recently came to recall based off of that, Amazon specifically, where they’re able to place these huge, expensive, and many times failure bets on new products and services because of the base of business they have elsewhere, specifically like AWS. So, yes, it is one of the largest retailers in the world, but AWS is actually like a humongous bedrock of their business. And so even just thinking about that in and of itself, if you are working at a place like Amazon and you’re on the AWS team as opposed to this experimental new product team, your attitude and approach to things, it requires you to take a different approach because if you are at AWS knowing that it’s the bedrock of business in that business, I can imagine priority one is being risk averse. We do not take a chisel to the bedrock of our business.

Right. However, if you’re on another arm of that business and it’s an experimental new product that is hoping to become one of these profit generating divisions swing big, maybe things aren’t as well as established. And you understand that the bets here are different than they are in something that is the core foundation of our business. And you’re suggesting that we change it just because that’s not going to be received all that well. I think that’s a great point, and I think it’s something that I’m starting to see more discourse around in terms of how where you are inside of an organization can have such an impact on the work that you’re doing, but also the career that you build.

And some of this, I think is kind of unfair. It can be that if you get to work in part of the business that’s doing these innovation projects, these really glamorous working with new technologies, that this gets a lot of eyeballs, you can get a lot more visibility and it can be really great for your career. And on the other hand, if you’re working on something like internal tooling or something like that, that doesn’t tend to get the same kind of recognition. And I think it’s an important thing to think about if you are the manager of an organization or the director of an organization is like, how do you make sure that these opportunities are distributed kind of fairly throughout the folks in the organization so everyone gets to flex the skills that they really want to learn, maybe despite working in different parts of the business. Yeah.

As a leader, that would be something to be really mindful of. Of course, knowing that there’s a certain box that you probably have to work within, that it’s not going to probably exceed the bounds of that box. And that is true. I think you’re right where it is unfair, but also just be something, to use a phrase, that be eyes wide open as you go into your work, right. Of knowing what kind of impact you can have.

There’s nothing wrong with being a designer on a system that is meant to be 99.99% reliable.

Maybe it is not as exciting as some other people prefer, but there’s nothing less noble about that work and you making sure that that stays that way, because a lot of people’s lives and careers probably depend on that, and you’re just helping support that. Right? There’s nothing wrong with that. On the flip side, if you say, yeah, I’d prefer to kind of have this more rock star trajectory, working on the big, sexy projects that make headlines, then just be really mindful about that as you’re choosing your work right, or the teams and companies that you decide to work with. This reminds me of something.

This is very long ago, we had Erica hall on the podcast as well. And I think one of the things that she was saying, an example she used is like, yeah, understand the place that you’re in. If you’re working on an airline website or for an airline, there are certain regulatory reasons why some things and some products and services just can’t be innovated. It doesn’t matter how much evidence you have, it doesn’t matter how much the customers want it. Right.

It just can’t happen that way. And so understanding where that is and choosing to be okay with that or not, I think, is really important. But either way, knowing how that business works will really help you apply yourself in that business to make an effect in the best way possible. And I actually think you’ve also touched on another element, which I would kind of consider business acumen as well, and that is understanding regulations. I think it’s also something that we tend to kind of gloss over, or maybe we think we can leave it up to legal.

But it is really important that if you’re working in a highly regulated industry, that you understand what are some of the prevailing regulations that I just need to be aware of. Airlines is probably a really great example. Again, anyone working in fintech, there is a lot of regulations that are super critical for you to understand when it comes to designing your product and knowing where is a hard, hard boundary and where is the space where you can experiment and you can think more innovatively. And I think more content starting to come out about designing in highly regulated industries. But it’s also an area where I think people could develop a really interesting expertise and speciality as well.

Yeah, that’s true. I think neither of us would come and suggest that people in the UX field, on top of everything else that’s been suggested, we need to learn, also need to be regulatory experts. But yeah, it is definitely extremely helpful to be aware of those things as you’re having conversations so that a, you seem well informed, because that builds trust and credibility when making recommendations, I think is really the point. Right? Totally.

And I think that’s one of the best skills you can learn, no matter what your career is, is just how to have really good, intelligent conversations with people who have a specialty that you don’t. So be that legal, be that data science be that engineering? How can you have conversations or be part of conversations and move the thinking forward and still be a really important and influential seat at the table. And you’ve got your own expertise that you really want to share and you really want to bring forward, but that you can engage with a data scientist when they’re talking about market sizing or they’re talking about a b testing results and still have a conversation that’s meaningful and you’re understanding it, you’re absorbing it, you’re sharing your insights. I think these are some of the best skills that you can develop in UX or really any job at all.

Yeah. Awesome. So it’s clear that you have experience doing this. And so I think we’ve talked about the subject sort of in a general way for a little bit. Now.

I was going to ask you if you can take any specific example in your background and maybe walk folks through knowing that most of the audience is probably UX researchers listening to this, but walk them through. Like, how did we go from point a to point b in your case? I started at this company or this team or this project. Here’s how I learned about how the business worked. Here’s the work that we did.

Here’s how we quantified that into ROI. Could you walk us through that kind of scenario? Yeah. This is always the hardest questions when we have to go into a really specific case. So I would say, yeah, I was first exposed to this type of thinking when I was working in management consulting.

And one of the wonderful things I think about working in consulting or agency life is that you do get exposed to this incredibly broad array of different clients and of different industries. And a long time ago, I was working in insurance, and we were working with a client who wanted to think about some new products and services. And they wanted to get a sense of this, if it would make sense, essentially to go in and to enter kind of a new space for them. And so we did a lot of the really great design work. We did a whole bunch of research.

We did some service design. We were mapping out what this could look like. But as part of that, we needed to understand, well, what is the addressable market and how much of that market do we think this client could capture. And that’s when I had to build my first ever financial model. And it was difficult.

I have to say, it’s one of the most technically difficult things I’ve had to do in my career. I studied liberal arts. I do not come from a finance background, but to have to sit through and to understand things like net present value, which is the way that you can create kind of a single number, essentially that sums up whether or not something is a good bet. To think about how many people are there out in the world that potentially could use this product, how many of them we think actually will use it, how many of them will go to competitors, how many of them are going to go to us, and then thinking also about what are the different inputs when it comes to how much it’s actually going to cost the organization to come up with this product. Now, this is probably way more detailed than I think any ux person would ever need to do.

This is definitely more down the business end. Product managers maybe might be doing some of these similar types of things when you’re thinking in a lot of detail about if you’re going to build out a new product. But that ability to just, I think, think through some of these questions and again, to engage your pm and to be asking these types of questions around things like the addressable market is a really helpful skill for designers to have. So essentially, we were able to kind of bring all of this back to the client and then go to them with a series of pretty strong recommendations about which of the ideas we think had the greatest chance of succeeding in the market and which of those we think are maybe a second priority or maybe should be deprioritized altogether. And it was important, I think, to go through all of these rigorous steps to come up with that strong recommendation, rather than just saying customers love it, which, as we know, we really can’t leave things there.

Or even customers love it and they need it and it master core jobs to be done. And they’ve been trying to solve this problem in other ways, and they’re very excited to see this as a more seamless way to solve that problem. All of those things are like tick, tick, tick, tick when it comes to UX research, but that’s not enough. The client also has to know we can build it. It’s going to be feasible for us to build it.

It’s viable financially, and it’s the right strategic fit, and it’s got to tick all of those boxes before you can ask an organization to really go down that road. This is like, wow, really going back into management consulting mode there for a second. Yeah. But the thing is, this is actually really important because whether it’s your core responsibility to put those together or not, if you’re in Ux and UX research, you were part of that conversation, whether you realize it or not. And so I think, a, recognizing that you are part of that conversation, and b, that everything that you’re doing in your work can and should connect to that, I think is really critical in the success that you will have as a person in this field.

Right. To be able to understand that we can connect to those kind of things. So just to kind of summarize a little bit of what you were saying, what you did there is really, you started by talking with the customer and the stakeholders. You were understanding the market and how things kind of connected there, and then you were able to make a case. Right.

So I think to me, again, translating that, the place that we tend to fall down in UX research is that we don’t start by understanding the stakeholders in the business first. We could do all the research and say, like, yes, to your point. Customers love it. It’s a very strong fit. All indications suggest that people would want to use and or buy this thing.

But if that doesn’t connect with something that matters in terms of the strategic goals for the company or even the market at large, it’s not likely something for folks to act on. Yeah, absolutely. I think we hear this desirability, viability, feasibility all of the time, and I think most of us are really well versed in kind of what those mean and that we need to have that. But I think the strategic fit element is a really critical extra element to that. And if it’s not a strategic fit, it’s got to be so far off the charts.

The other three, that the organization is willing to reconsider its strategy to make this new idea part of it. And I think the best organizations do do that. I think small organizations do that a lot. I mean, that’s essentially what’s happening right? When founders pivot is they’re going, hey, I’ve actually found something else that’s ticking all of these different boxes.

Let’s move our strategy to incorporate this idea. There’s kind of nothing wrong with doing that. Right. You’ve just got to understand, again, this is a bigger ask now that you have for the organization and just understanding the level that that recommendation sits at. Right.

And going back to something that we were talking about earlier and having that self awareness of where your recommendations or your suggestions are coming from, you can’t know that if you haven’t done that upfront work and understanding the business, how it operates, how it makes money, how it saves money, what its priority is right now is its priority growth to earn more money. Is it to save money and protect costs. Because just as an example, if it is, we really need to protect costs in the current economic environment that we’re in. And you’re suggesting a project that is purely growth and by the way, going to cost $2 million in, let’s just say, engineering. It’s not going to land very well right now.

It doesn’t matter how viable it is, it just won’t land right now. And it’s because you lack that context and self awareness of what’s happening in the business outside of your specific work. Yeah, definitely agree. Cool. Well, so if folks are sitting here listening to this and they say, all right, I’m convinced I should learn how the business works better so that I’m able to make recommendations in this way, how might you suggest they start?

Great question. So I’ve got to plug my own company here. So rect is developing a whole suite of courses when it comes to business acumen. So our first course around impact sizing, we’ve run a bunch of sessions for that, and I’m developing on demand video content for it now. But we’re also spinning out a bunch of different courses when it comes to business acumen for designers.

And this covers pretty much everything we’ve talked about today and some more, including even financial accounting concepts. So things like Capex and Opex, these are also concepts that I think it’s really important for designers to learn. Other than that, I would say there are always tons of amazing thinkers and content being produced on LinkedIn. The challenge is to broaden your kind of network and to broaden the types of folks that you follow. So if you’re not finding that a lot of folks in UX and design are talking about this stuff, maybe follow product managers, maybe follow management consultants.

Just find other people in your network who are having these types of conversations and have a look at what they’re talking about as well. I also think often it can be kind of conceptually easier to understand some of this stuff when it comes to startups because they’re smaller. Once we get to business, like Walmart or something, the scale there is just so off the charts. It can be quite overwhelming to try and break down the business model. Whereas often for startups, they’re selling a single product and they have a singular business model, particularly at the very beginning.

So I think there’s always like tons of fantastic podcasts and content being produced by folks in startup land. That maybe is a really good kind of entry point to start thinking differently about business models and building your comprehension and understanding. Yeah, that’s a really great suggestion, especially for startups, because you’re right, the business model tends to start a lot more straightforward before a company scales. And being able to look at that, I think especially if you were to work in a larger company, you could essentially look at the department you work in as a startup within that, although that’s likely not the case. But just think about it like it’s a smaller business model within a much larger or complex organization.

So yeah, I like that suggestion quite a bit. Although I’m curious what you would say to folks listening to this, and I’m presuming, but I’m curious what you would say for folks listening to this in the field saying, yeah, that’s all great, but why do we have to justify the ROI of our work when others don’t? So I can imagine people are sitting here thinking, I don’t hear engineers constantly having to justify the ROI of their work. I don’t hear product managers having to justify the ROI of their work. Curious what your reaction to that would be.

Yeah, I don’t want to have to justify the Roi of my work either. I agree.

It’s really that simple. I think there’s no one wandering around that’s like me, measure me. It’s not a desire, I think, that a lot of us have, right? And ideally the work should speak for itself. But in one’s own career development or when one is a manager of a team inside of an organization, it is almost never the case that the work a team is doing will speak for itself.

And if it does, it’s speaking to a really small audience. And if you want to demonstrate your impact beyond your kind of immediate team, that’s when you need to start developing kind of different techniques to demonstrate that impact. And I think the other reality is actually a lot of those teams are calculating the ROI of their work and they are demonstrating their impact. We just might not be aware of it. So product managers and potentially engineers and data science and all they probably are saying, I worked on these products and I was a core contributor or I was the leader of the product and it created this much value for the organization.

And often whoever it is can say that they own those metrics and they get to take credit and that shows up as kind of like their Roi, of their role. So I think probably more of it is happening than we recognize because maybe we’re not looking out for it or maybe we’re not part of those conversations, but I think it’s kind of happening all the time. And we can get in on that if we want to, or you can decide to take a step back if you do. But in my opinion, it’s just another tool that you have in your toolkit to demonstrate impact and have these types of conversations. And, yeah, ideally we wouldn’t have to do it, but kind of the way our current systems work, I think it’s better to know how rather than not.

Yeah, I really appreciate the way you answered that because what it sort of illustrated to me is this concept of, like, own your own narrative you can choose not to learn and the ways to communicate the Roi of your work specific ux. Ux research, but someone else is going to do it for you if you don’t. And to your point, yeah, I mean, this whole context and self awareness thing, we probably just don’t realize that it actually is happening in other areas of the business. And maybe it’s a newer concept to us and that’s why we have to deal with it now, but it likely is happening elsewhere. And then if it isn’t in any function of the business, somebody’s doing that.

Because businesses don’t operate for touchy feely. They operate to make money. Right. They operate to meet some financial means or end. And everything about that is typically done in order to optimize that.

Right. I think, interestingly, it’s probably a case where, given that some of the skills and application of UX and UX research are newer, other people perhaps aren’t always doing the ROI on that because it’s less understood. But if you think about something like engineering, it’s pretty well established where businesses hire engineers because they’ve already figured that out. And that’s why engineers don’t have to do the Roi of ux. And maybe that’s the case.

Maybe it’s just we have a sense or a feel that this is valuable, but we don’t have the way to calculate it yet. And if the business doesn’t, that’s a perfect opportunity for you to jump in and say, well, here’s how. And here’s exactly the impact that we have. Yeah, if you can be the one that’s like, yeah, this is exactly it, and you can shape that narrative, I think that can be a really powerful thing that you’re doing inside of an organization. The reality, though, is once you start saying, here’s the impact that we’ve made, and we are responsible for this kind of impact, that you’ve got to own it, good or bad.

So if the product does amazingly and it launches in market, and it’s this massive success. And pat on the back for you, congratulations. But if it bombs and it does really badly, then you’ve also got to be really comfortable to take accountability for that. And I think that’s also something that kind of holds people back from really wanting to dive in with both feet when it comes to this kind of stuff. Is this sense that, well, yeah, we’ll get the wins, but we’ll also get the losses.

For me, I’m like, I want it both, right? I want to be in there. I want to be making those big decisions. I want to be influencing the way that my organization works. And that means celebrating the wins, it means owning the losses.

And I think we’ve got to be equally comfortable with both those things. Yeah, completely agree. I mean, don’t sign up to eat dessert if you haven’t had your vegetables kind of thing. Right. You got to be able to do that.

And of course, nobody wants to say, yeah, the decisions I made led to part of a failure of that product, but the reality is somebody’s decisions did, and that’s just the way the world works. In fact, some of the most successful companies and individuals in the world, they’re only right most of the time or like half of the time. You don’t have to be right all of the time. And I think kind of leaning into that and just making the best decisions that you can, but doing the best work that you can, and it will allow you to have those conversations and get more at bats, so to speak. Yeah, absolutely.

And I think designers have a deep conviction in the work that we do. Like, we believe in the methods that we use, we believe in the products that we create. And if you have that conviction, you should be jumping in with both feet to measure the impact that it creates. And I think most of us in this field would not have stayed in the field if we didn’t have that level of conviction. So this is just following up on the impact.

It’s making sure you’re attuned to how things go once they launch. It’s circling back to stakeholders once stuff’s in market and not just moving on to the next thing without getting those data points later. All of these things are just going to help you feel kind of more in touch with the impact that you’re creating and probably only increase your sense of making change. And I think often it can be a really positive thing when you do see that impact and you know you are part of it. Yeah, definitely part of what you just said.

There made me think again. This self awareness and understanding that even if you are the one suggesting we move in this direction, it isn’t just your decision, it is a team. Right. And so you’re not just signing up for the sole responsibility of a good or a bad decision. You are trying to convince a team.

Let’s rally around this, and here’s the reasons why. And to your point, if you’ve done that work really well, you probably have very strong convictions that this is right and it is your job, it is your responsibility to get the team behind that and say, we’re going to sign up for this because that’s what the team does. It’s not one person that should get an award when a product goes really well. And it’s probably not just one person that should be blamed, so to speak, when things don’t go well. It is a team, and you have a really critical function in that, in shaping the team’s perspective and opinion and convictions on that based on the work that we do.

Yeah, agreed. Design is a team sport, and I think that’s one of the best things about it. Awesome. So as it happens, time runs out and we have to be respectful of that. Right.

One of the things that I like to do at the end of every episode is I ask the person that we chat with if I forgot everything that we talked about and somebody came to you and says, hey, ruby, what was the main point? What’s the main takeaway of the conversation you had on the show? How would you answer that?

I would say that designers are a really core part of creating impact for organizations and that we should celebrate the fact that we can do that by learning more ways to understand and communicate that impact. All right. Right on. And we talked about a lot of ways you can start by doing that. Now, if folks were curious to learn more about the kind of content you’re sharing, continue the conversation, anything like that, how can folks find you and tell us where they can continue that conversation?

The best place to find me is on LinkedIn. Just search Ruby Pryor and I’m sure that I will come up. Yeah, right on. And we can have a link to your profile in the show, notes for this episode and our blog as well. Anything else you want to share with folks today that we didn’t get a chance to talk?

I mean, I think we’re pretty good. Cool. Yeah. And we’re going to have links to your new company as well, Rex, and your LinkedIn profile. All that stuff you’ll be able to find.

Ruby, continue the conversation about any of this stuff. I encourage you to do so. Very active on LinkedIn, sharing a lot of really good stuff there. So I think it’s a great resource, despite a lot of people’s aversion to LinkedIn these days. Ruby, really appreciate you taking the time.

Excellent conversation, very needed, I think, in our industry, and I hope that this just helps kind of push that forward. Appreciate you jumping on and taking the time to chat today. Thanks so much, Zach. Have a really great day. All right, everybody, we will see you next time.