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How do you persuade stakeholders that your UX project adds value? Following these 5 tips will set you up to get buy-in

Let’s be honest. UXers often know what needs to be done to make a product perfect for users. The only problem is that a lot of the time UXers lack the authority to sign off on user research or usability projects. And most of the time, they don’t have control of a product’s budget.

That’s why getting buy-in from stakeholders is essential for the success of a UX project. Those above you in the organizational hierarchy need to believe in the validity, necessity and financial payback of the user experience activities you propose.

Sadly, getting stakeholder buy-in for UX projects is easier said than done. True, gone are the bad old days when managers and investors had never heard of UX, never mind seen its value-add potential. But UX and usability activities can still be seen as a ‘nice-to-have’ feature rather than a necessity. Think cherry on the cake rather than, well, cake.

So, how the heck do you convince your boss and stakeholders (whether those stakeholders are investors, product managers, execs or even marketing) of the value of user experience? These 5 handy tips might just get you the buy-in you need next time.

1 – Create a bitesize user experience research plan

Stakeholder buy-in is more forth-coming if everyone feels they have ownership and investment in the proposal from the get-go.

To get buy-in for a UX project, you need a clear, concise project plan. Not only that – stakeholders need to know you’ve got a plan. That’s why it’s crucial to produce an accessible, easily shared outline of your UX activities, goals and timeline if you’re looking for stakeholder support.

When we say bitesize, we mean it. One-page is all you need, according to Tomer Sharon in Smashing Magazine. “You must be able to boil a UX research plan down to one page. If you can’t or won’t, then you won’t get buy-in for the research and its results,” says Tomer.

So what should this one page user experience research plan look like? It should be targeted at specific stakeholders – software developers will have very different concerns and questions from marketing execs, for example – and it should set expectations about the value of the UX activities you propose.

The main points you’ll want to cover, according to Tomer, are:

  • Title
  • Who’s involved (name your stakeholders, and yourself)
  • Project background
  • Goals
  • Questions you aim to address in your proposed activities
  • UX methodology
  • User participants
  • Schedule
  • Usability testing script/questions

There. You just set expectations and engaged stakeholders in one page.


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2 – Use a wireframe or functional prototype to get buy-in

Stakeholders and management are much more likely to get on board if they can see and interact with a low fidelity version of what you are proposing,” says UX Designer Ashlea McKay. It’s not hard to see why – visualizing a software solution in its entirety is impossible, but if stakeholders can see and interact with a prototype they become more aware of the complexities of the UX design process.

If you’re using a prototyping tool like Justinmind to get stakeholder buy-in, you can mix up different prototype fidelities for different stakeholders. For example:

  • If you’re trying to get buy-in for information architecture user research, use a low fidelity wireframe or even a paper sketch
  • For support on basic functionality user experience research, opt for a lo-fi wireframe and some one-on-one time with stakeholders
  • To achieve buy-in for high level functionality (like interactivity), you need a high level prototype to help you with the strategic planning. Justinmind can go as high level as you need.

3 – Empathize with stakeholders

You know that thing we UXers are always talking about, user empathy? How about we turn our empathetic abilities on stakeholders to increase our chances of getting buy-in? Understanding stakeholder fears and pressures can get UXers and UX designers a lot closer to pushing their buy-in buttons.

First, meet stakeholders in their comfort zone, literally and metaphorically. Hold meetings on their territory or at a time specified by them, to ensure they’re not on the defensive.

Second, speak their language. We may not realize it, but UX design is as full of jargon as the next discipline (even the abbreviation UX is still new to some), so check yourself and speak plainly. If you find yourself using any of these UX terms, back up and explain what you mean in layman’s terms.

Third, listen to their worries. For you it’s vital that the user has a seamless, delightful experience; for your CEO it can be more pressing to show return on investment to the Board. To get buy-in, understand the fears and worries of your various stakeholders and sell UX as a way to assuage those fears.

4 – Ask stakeholders or bosses to actually get involved in user experience research, says Jared Spool

When Jared Spool opines, we listen. That’s why we love this advice from the UX master on getting stakeholder buy-in: don’t just look for buy-in, ask for deep involvement in UX processes and activities.

If stakeholders are involved in your user experience research, says Jared, you get their attention. And that attention translates to acceptance and buy-in. From selecting usability test participants to taking part in the testing process and analyzing the results, try to get stakeholders on board for all of it.

5 – Make the connection between UX and ROI

A strong business case is perhaps the best friend a UXer can have. After all, the bottom line is what drives all the decisions in a company, not intangibles like ‘delight’. Many stakeholders only feel secure supporting an initiative if the Return on Investment is made clear.

For a UXer, there are a few ways of making the business case for research activities. You can point out how much revenue stands to be lost through bad UX (say, a friction-filled check-out process) with abandonment rates extrapolated from testing on prototypes.

Or, you can project forward on how much revenue stands to be gained by implementing UX improvements, for example by using eye tracking to justify a redesign of an eCommerce site.

Whichever path you choose, you need to use real data to back up the business case.

And as Dana Chisnell at UsabilityWorks makes explicit, stakeholder buy-in and getting it is related to company culture and priorities. Once stakeholders see negative changes in the bottom line, they open up to UX projects

How to get buy-in for UX projects – the takeaway

Without stakeholder buy-in, UX designers and researchers often don’t have the authority to implement the UX research and activities that build great products. And buy-in doesn’t come for free. UXers have to be willing to understand stakeholders, communicate on their terms and provide evidence for their UX activities. The value of UX is obvious to UXers; with these 5 tips, you can make it obvious to everyone else too.

Cassandra is Marketing Lead at Justinmind

2 comments

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  • Great article. It was succinct, clear and to the point. It’s definitely all about being able to show the potential ROI that comes from top-shelf UXing, solid planning and analytic & user-centered iterating. Thanks for sharing!

    • Glad you liked it Peter! Agreed – JUX brings so much value, it’s important to make that obvious to everyone involved in a project